Cory Doctorow just taught me more about copyright issues than I've probably learned over much of my lifetime.
It came during a Vancouver Writers Fest talk that he gave today at the Improv Centre on Granville Island.
I was moderating the presentation by Doctorow, the Toronto-born author of science fiction and nonfiction, including the recently released Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age.
It's a collection of punchy essays on everything from digital locks to the appropriate use of copyright to the advantages of disorganized channels for creators. There are also sections on how writers and artists can generate an income when everyone is copying their work for free.
Among the options are selling a physical copy, selling ads, selling swag, selling commissions, selling tickets to events, and asking for donations through services such as Humble Indie Bunkle and Kickstarter.
Doctorow, coeditor of Boing Boing and senior adviser to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that if anyone plans to make money in the arts, it's essential to understand how the marketplace is shaped by Internet regulation.
"The single most important thing you need in order to have a career in the arts is persistence," Doctorow writes in his new book. "The second most important thing you need is talent. The third most important thing is a grounding in how the online world works. It's that important."
He revealed during his talk how appalled he was when the corporate giant Viacom once advanced legal arguments that broadcasters and major studios should have access to people's private files on YouTube. This would be to ensure that no copyrighted content was being stored. Fortunately, this bid failed.
He also took a few minutes to criticize U2's Bono for once arguing in a New York Times commentary that the United States could learn some things from China about creating firewalls to protect artists' incomes.
"And as for China," Doctorow writes in Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, "its national firewall is a useful tool for surveilling the country, and moderately effective at preventing unsophisticated Internet users from visiting Amnesty International's website, but it's not particularly effective at keeping actual, committed dissidents offline."
When it comes to Canadian politics, the author also praised NDP MP Charlie Angus for his understanding of the Internet, but also noted that none of the three major parties really had a good grasp of the topic. And he isn't impressed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 30-year agreement with the government of China, which allows for China to challenge Canadian laws at secret tribunals.
But Doctorow, who's now based in London, England, remains grateful for his nontraditional education in Toronto, which he cited as one reason why he thinks in unconventional ways. And if he had his druthers, there would be no standardized tests in the Canadian school system. Ever.