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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Richard Poynder interviews Cory Doctorow

Richard Poynder has posted his interview with Cory Doctorow. This is the latest installment of The Basement Interviews, Poynder's blog-based OA book of interviews with leaders of many related openness initiatives. Excerpt:

[A]ll his works are published under Creative Commons licences, which allow people to download free electronic copies of his books, and to re-distribute and rework them. And with each new book Doctorow has tended to adopt ever more liberal licensing terms....His readers have responded positively: Down and Out has been widely adapted, translated and remixed by third parties....More importantly, Doctorow has discovered that liberal licensing can make good business sense. Despite Down and Out being available as a free download, he boasts, "that sucker has blown through five print editions, so I'm not worried that giving away books is hurting my sales." In other words, Doctorow has demonstrated that providing free electronic copies of creative works is an excellent publicity strategy, and can lead to higher print sales....The point, says Doctorow, is that he is not some "patchouli-scented, fuzzy-headed, 'information wants to be free' info-hippie", but an entrepreneur seeking new business models. "I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business-model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes. Me, I'm looking to find ways to use copying to make more money and it's working: enlisting my readers as evangelists for my work and giving them free eBooks to distribute sells more books." [...]

RP: Might the reverse be true: could it be that today's technologies require openness in a way that previous technologies did not? Open Source people, for instance, argue that software is now so complex that it requires a very large number of eyeballs to root out all the bugs. I'm was also struck by your comments earlier when you said that in order to develop cognitive radio developers need unrestricted access to the technology?

CD: Eric Raymond has a great riff about this, where he talks about the difference between chemistry and alchemy. There was a 500-year dark age of alchemy, he says, during which every single alchemist had to discover for himself the hard way that drinking mercury was bad for you, and he then took that secret to his grave. Today we have chemistry, and the difference between chemistry and alchemy rests on whether or not you publish the outcome of your experiments. Once people started publishing the outcome of their experiments the world changed in a very short time. What had been a collection of superstitions that killed you as often as it advanced your understanding of the natural world turned into a science.

RP: So there is nothing different about modern technologies that necessitates greater openness?

CD: What has really changed is the ability to collaborate. We now live in a world where the barriers to knowledge are coming down; the barriers to access are coming down; and so the barriers to collaboration are coming down.