December 22, 2007

Creative Comments...

by Chris Randall

There's an article by Matt Safford in the latest issue of PC Mag on the subject of Creative Commons that quotes me extensively (read it here) which you might find interesting if you're in to the whole CopyLeft scene. What the article doesn't hit upon is something I opined extensively on in the interview itself. Matt had asked me if I felt that using Creative Commons licenses helped our promotional efforts in general. (My comments in the article are a sub-set of my overall rant.) In thinking about it a couple months after the fact, I think that trying to use a Sampling Plus license (or whatever) as a promotional vehicle is just plain silly. The only people that care are about 80 bloggers and internet radio station operators that live on the outskirts of San Francisco.

(Unfortunately, one of those people is Cory Doctorow, and he just won't shut the fuck up. It makes the rest of us, people that are actually creative instead of just pretending to be so we can get speaking fees, look bad. "Hey, look, my latest terrible novel has been machine-translated in to Farsi backwards, and every third word was replaced with an icon that represents Mickey Mouse. Aren't I charming?")

Anyways, I'm not sure what my point is here, but I'm fairly certain I have one. We're in Phoenix now, and oddly enough, it's colder here than our mountain home in Oregon. Go figure.



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Dec.22.2007 @ 5:22 PM
"Hey, look, my latest terrible novel has been machine-translated in to Farsi backwards, and every third word was replaced with an icon that represents Mickey Mouse. Aren't I charming?"



Dec.22.2007 @ 9:44 PM
Dave Cake
Cory Doctorow may be sometimes annoying. But he's not pretending to be creative, he has actually written a whole bunch of fairly original books. You might not like 'em, but they aren't pretend. Just because you think someone is an arsehole, doesn't mean their creative output doesn't count.

And as far as speaking fees go, I know for sure he does a lot of speaking engagements for free or just travel expenses (as most SF authors do), and prior to last year making copyright related speeches was just part of his day job (so he got paid to do it, but not in speaking fees).

As it happens I get on with the guy, but my point is that there are plenty of things to criticise him for (using boingboing as a bully pulpit, the LeGuin thing, etc) without resorting to cheap shots, and they are cheap shots.


Dec.22.2007 @ 10:29 PM
I dunno. I don't think they're particularly cheap shots. Even if they are, you could very well say that the dude invites them. I tried reading one of his books once to see what the fuss was about, but the writing was so unutterably awful that I didn't get far enough to determine whether or not it was original. I think if you can't write decent fiction, you're probably better off expressing your original ideas in the form of an essay (like, say, on your blog, for example) than in the form of a novel, but that's just my opinion, and what do I know, anyway.

Dec.22.2007 @ 10:56 PM
Chris Randall
Obviously, I agree with space_monkey. I read a _lot_ of science fiction, and think I have a fairly good grasp of the genre. It is, other than history books, essentially all I read. I've tried three of Mr. Doctorow's offerings, and can say unequivocally that bad writing is bad writing, regardless of genre or subject matter. It is, in fact, fairly easy to spot. And "hard" science fiction (Ye gods, I hate that term), fiction that takes a pretense or thesis and explores the ramifications therein, is a fairly strict art form; there are rules (for want of a better term) and it isn't that difficult to develop a story if you have an idea.

That being the case, bad hard science fiction is doubly tragic, because either the pretense is tragically flawed, the exploration is poorly done, or both.

In any case, my reasons for disliking Mr. Doctorow have almost nothing to do with his ability (or utter lack thereof) to spin a good yarn, and everything to do with his complete and total lack of understanding of American copyright law. He can't even illustrate his own viewpoints on the subject to the point where they're understandable in any reasonable context, beyond the catch-all "it's broken." This bothers me because of the Bully Pulpit that Mr. Cake mentioned, which lends his opinions (and that's all they are) credence.

I used to be a religious BoingBoing reader, and as everyone knows I'm a strident supporter of Creative Commons and EFF. But I think Mr. Doctorow does more to harm things than he could ever know, just by being a professional flake. One post in particular on BoingBoing flipped me 180 degrees in the space of about a half a minute, when I suddenly realized he didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. I would be absolutely thrilled to debate him in public, which would be amusing to all concerned because we're both technically on the same side. But unfortunately, my own bully pulpit isn't near bully enough to warrant such a thing. Plus I would automatically "lose" any such debate just for having the temerity to question his earnestness in front of his fanboys.

If you're curious, the post in question is here:

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EDIT: In reading that back to myself, I think I might not make myself clear. What I dislike about Cory's stance is this: he doesn't understand copyright well enough to have the right to dislike it. He contributes wantonly to the general misunderstanding by semi-creative people (let's just go ahead and say "bloggers" and "podcasters") because he has a voice of authority on the subject, largely self-appointed but even so.

Thus, as I said, he does more harm than good, with literally hundreds of knee-jerk posts on BoingBoing that make no sense whatsoever, but serve to exacerbate the already difficult birthing process of this century's understanding of copyright. Joe Shmoe Blogger (we'll go ahead and say "Wil Wheaton") is given an incredibly misinformed education on copyright, and this grows exponentially.

To use a painful metaphor, it is like the wrestling coach teaching A.P. English.



Dec.22.2007 @ 11:21 PM
I read the story in the link but I still didn't get the point. I read BoingBoing every day but I've never been offended by Mr. Doctorow, maybe because I just skip over the things that seem like nonsense. I'm like that.
On the other hand, this confirms my long standing theory about why most chain restaurants have their own birthday song and don't sing Happy Birthday.
I like the fact that you don't like his writing but don't let that influence your opinion on the issues. I'm so tired of reading assholes (or talking to them in person) who disagree with an issue because they don't like the squeaky wheels, as in "I'm for the Iraq war because Michael Moore is an ass". Sure Michael Moore is an ass, but he's not wrong. Morons. Because all liberals just love Michael Moore.

Dec.22.2007 @ 11:57 PM
Chris Randall
I'm a dyed-in-the-wool life-long Democrat, member of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the ACLU, and I personally find Michael Moore to be almost completely interminable. But, as you say, that doesn't make him wrong. If Cory Doctorow was just a bad writer, but completely right about everything copyright, I'd be in the front row waving a banner. Nobody holds a gun to my head and makes me read his fiction, but his stance on copyright directly affects me.

As for how the post is stupid, it's actually fairly simple, and can be made in 2 points. They are:

1) Very nearly all (or near as all to make no difference) restaurants have paid an ASCAP license fee, based entirely on the number of chairs in that restaurant versus how many nights a week they are open. Whether someone sings "Happy Birthday" or not has nothing whatsoever to do with that license.

2) ASCAP's SOLE PURPOSE, as a non-profit organization, is to make sure that auto companies, department stores, and radio stations (in other words, companies that use music to make a profit, or make a customer's experience more enjoyable so that a profit is easier to obtain) give musicians a cut of the action.

Because, you know, that's such a bad thing.

In Mr. Doctorow's world, ASCAP (and its retarded step-siblings SESAC and BMI) would cease to exist, because "they're broken," and once sent a kid that made a podcast a bill for a license, thus ensuring that Target can play whatever music they want at whatever volume they want in order to lubricate the anal dildo of commerce, without paying one red cent to the musicians that made that music.

Radio stations, by and large, are simply a vehicle by which commercials can be played on the public airwaves. This is how radio stations make money. Their income is 100% advertising-generated. The songs between the advertisements are nothing more than something to make the advertisements worth listening to. ASCAP ensures that the musicians that wrote that music get their fair share.

Nightclubs are absolutely 100% entirely engines for turning Budweiser in to money. Any and all music that occurs at the nightclub is lubrication for the anal dildo of commerce, as above. It is usually a loss-leader, and definitely so in any 21+ venue. (If you're a headliner, look at what you're paid as an advance versus the number of people in attendance times the cover charge, and wonder how that math worked out.) ASCAP makes sure that the musicians that wrote the songs that are performed (either by the DJ or a band) in the nightclub in order to make it more fun than just standing around in a room drinking beer get their cut of the action.

This is just the ASCAP portion of my argument against Mr. Doctorow, because you asked. He has a tendency to post any dumb-ass troll fodder that comes along ("BMI asked for a license fee for my Podcast, but I only play cool music so WTF?") and when he is demonstrably wrong, he never posts a retraction. So it is in the public eye for all time, and is a Fact, because he said so.

He is, in short, either tragically misinformed or utterly stupid, and, I'll say again, causes more harm than good.



Dec.23.2007 @ 8:08 AM
"I think Mr. Doctorow does more to harm things than he could ever know, just by being a professional flake"

That pretty much sums up why I couldnt give to the EFF while he was getting income from them. The guy is a complete dick in public and just doesnt isnt a persuader. Why piss my money away on him?

CR already pointed out the ignorance and others have pointed out his lack of talent as a writer (I agree on both points). The thing I've wondered about for quite a while is where does his money come from? I cant see that the publishing and speaking engagements pay for the lifestyle he indicates.

Anyways hes on my list of "the day he dies, I'm roasting a goat, everyone is welcome". That list just keeps getting longer, pretty soon I'm gonna have to buy a goat ranch to keep those promises.


Dec.23.2007 @ 10:17 AM
Chris Randall
Try pygmy goats. They take up much less room.

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Dec.23.2007 @ 11:41 AM
It wouldn't matter if he printed a retraction, because as the fascists have long known, and has now been backed up by some research study (can't be bothered to site a citation but it was pretty recent so it can't be hard to find), the important thing is just to get the "meme" out there, it doesn't matter if you have to "take it back" later. People overwhelmingly continue to believe the first thing they hear about whatever, even if presented with evidence that proves it to be wrong. (NPR's "On the Media" did a good piece about it.)

Cory Doctorow? Meh. He always struck me as a fan boi who lucked into a really good gig. I stopped reading BB about a year ago and not found my life lacking in anyway. There are far better ways to aggregate the far corners of the internet without all the static of him instantly over-reacting to anything having to do with DRM. Same reason Digg drives me nuts.

I mean, yes, DRM is fucking annoying and inherently *not* future proof, but there are far more troubling battles to concern ourselves with, no? I mean, just deal with whatever level of DRM you're comfortable with and get on with it already; it is not my "right" to have access to every piece of data out there in whatever format I want it. And I'm huge supporter of the public domain and sensible copyright laws. So, yeah, screw the RIAA and all that, but if NBC doesn't want me to watch their crap on my iPod, or Sony wants to build a digital id into their music data, or PACE want to continue to create enough FUD regarding sales=DRM, I guess I should look for another solution. I'm all for healthy debate and calling people on their bullshit, but every battle doesn't have to be won, or at least fought with the same intensity.

About his (mis)views (?) on ASCAP. Well, I worked for our venerable composing/songwriting overlords, albeit briefly and in the PR branch, a bunch of years ago. Thus my opinion is not entirely uniformed. I remember a few BB posts about ASCAP but didn't get particularly upset. ASCAP will not deny that historically they have some shady chapters in their past, and sometimes their practices, IMO, come off as over-the-top. But they are by and large a benevolent organization and one whose guiding mission is truly to protect and further the interests of musicians. It is at least staffed by people who love music. Of course the same can be said of RIAA member companies; and I have inside information that ASCAP is directly responsible for Hootie getting signed. So there's that. But ASCAP is not out to indenture the people it represents, and until someone thinks of a better way (unlikely) to look after the interests of composers, then, again, get over it.

CR, I don't get the semantics, but I do recall that ASCAP specifically makes the distinction "Not-for-Profit" rather than a "Non-profit" - I don't know why or the reasoning behind it, but they are/were pretty particular on that point.


Dec.23.2007 @ 11:48 AM
Yeah, I know, blah, blah, blah. I annoy myself sometimes.

I completely understand if you want to ban me.


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