Information Doesn’t Want to be Free (Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow’s “Information Doesn’t Want to be Free” aims to be a 2014 successor to Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture”, both authors writing about how modern copyright law restricts artistic expression and how art and copyright should function within the context of the Internet. Where Lessig’s expertise shows in his book’s policy analysis, Doctorow’s comes from his personal experience as a writer navigating new mediums and distribution channels.

The book starts off strong, first laying out the roles of creators, publishers, and distributors (“intermediaries”) in getting art to consumers and discussing how digital distribution has changed the power dynamics involved. Doctorow’s key addition to the related discourse is the connecting of DRM, largely marketed and sold as protection for content itself, to distributor lock-in and, consequently, a rise in distributor power.

Unfortunately, the book’s second half losses this coherence. Doctorow begins jumping from topic to topic, including rambling thoughts on typical hacker culture issues: net neutrality, free software, proprietary hardware, three strikes laws. These are great topics to write about, but the lack of organization and depth turns the book into and unsorted collection of ideological screeds.

I hoped for better from Cory Doctorow. He’s the right person to be writing an in-depth book on the intersection of art, copyright policy, and the internet, but instead of a thoughtful analysis on these topics the book has the depth of a short blog post, part anecdote and part ideological rant. Readers who regularly follow these subjects will find little, if any, new information, and a minimum of analysis.

The book’s organization even reflects this level of depth: sections are often only a page or two long, as if the book is actually a collection of brief Techcrunch posts. Most sections have anecdotes written in the margins, some of which are in a smaller font at the end of a section with more content than the section it follows, others adjacent to the text with no good point for the reader to break their reading flow for this side piece.

Where Lessig is able to add depth to the conversation about modern copyright issues through legal analysis and policy suggestions, Doctorow’s book doesn’t add much at all. It’s an interesting summary about current issues and particularly how modern players like Amazon and YouTube relate to them, but little more than that.