APRIL 3, 2015

CityU Library Reviews “Information Doesn’t Want to be Free: Laws for the Internet age”

Information Doesn't Want to be Free cover image


Review by Carolyne Begin

“Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.” Doctorow, 2014

Carolyne Begin, Librarian
Carolyne Begin reviews “Information Doesn’t Want to be Free”

This phrase exemplifies the core idea that Cory Doctorow expresses in this book. He goes on to explain that people want the freedom to interact with their devices and information in any way they can imagine. They want to watch movies on the bus, listen to the hippest new song, share information with people around the world, and download software that they need, among other things.

What people don’t want are restrictions and rules that prevent them from accomplishing these tasks. Being free will not always refer to the price of an item, as it can describe the way in which the item can be used. Many people do buy movies, books, and music on the internet but many regulations decide where they can be used. The author does not advocate for eliminating copyright, but does encourage it to be used the way it was intended: to protect the artists. He goes on to state that much of the digital rights management (DRM) that is in place today does not protect artists. Many times, a company with more power negotiates contracts that ensure that the company benefits, while artists receive very little of the monetary value.

Doctorow would like to provide alternatives for this model. The book does so by stating a number of examples of people making money on the internet without giving up digital rights (himself included) or people making money by putting their work online “for free.” The lesson to be learned is that people want to pay for art, but when they have no other choice, piracy is often the easiest way to get what they want.

Another issue that the book addresses is the security and privacy of users when they use their devices. Copyright, and its consequences, have not been at the forefront of the public’s mind in the past, but they are barriers to the freedom of information. They are also a barrier to owning the devices that we use every day. With the use of digital locks, we give up control of our devices and allow companies in. A recent example would be the addition of U2’s new album on all devices with ITunes whether you wanted it or not. While some digital locks benefit the user (software patches, virus detection), should they be added to our devices without consent or knowledge?

Technology has changed the way we receive information so much in past decades that it is time to reconsider copyright. As stated by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, this has been so challenging “because on the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. […] On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time” (as cited in Doctorow, 2014, p.94). As a group we will need to find a balance between these elements while we continue to explore new ways to get information. This stands to make an impact on more than just the entertainment industry, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Doctorow, C., Palmer, A., & Gaiman, N. (2014). Information doesn’t want to be free: Laws for the Internet age. San Francisco, CA: McSweeney’s. 162 pages. Check WorldCat.org to find a copy at the library closest to you.

Curriculum Connections

There are a variety of disciplines which might benefit from exploring the themes discussed in Information doesn’t want to be free. For example:

Information Security [The Technology Institute and Criminal Justice]: This book discusses elements of copyright and the technology used to enforce it in a digital world. There are many current examples and stories that relate to present-day practice in software development. There is also a lengthy discussion of digital locks and the effect it can have on the security of users’ private information.

Copyright, DRM, and Fair Use [All programs where faculty use online or copyrighted resources]: It seems broad to say that copyright affects all of us, but in academics we often use information and resources that are not our own. What are the consequences of our actions? Who gets credit for the resources that we use and who controls the DRM (digital right management) of these resources? As we have learned from the new restrictions imposed by Harvard, copyright is a challenge for academics as much as for artists.

Related Resources

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CityU Library book reviews feature materials relevant to academic programs. Each review includes curriculum connections and a list of related resources.  We hope you enjoy learning and discovering new resources with us!


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