Cory Doctorow: Canadian-British writer, blogger, internet evangelist, and awesome guy
Cory Doctorow: Canadian-British writer, blogger, internet evangelist, and awesome guy

In every geeky niche there is one person that everyone those geeks know as the coolest person in their sphere. For the open internet, online privacy sphere—these are the geeks working for net neutrality and an open internet— Cory Doctorow is that guy.

And not only is he an evangelist for the backbone of the world, he’s a science fiction writer and a blogger. All this means that when our local library announced Doctorow was going to be a guest speaker, we basically dropped everything to go.

Doctorow crafted a narrative about the dangers of solving social problems—for example, the problem of not paying for creative works—by breaking computers and breaking security. As Doctorow explained in his opening story, “The destiny of information is intimately tied up with the freedom of people.”

During his lecture, Doctorow talked at length about digital rights management (DRM) by talking about information security. Infosec, for Doctorow is critical for any connected. Connected computers are increasingly being put into buildings, cars, and even bodies and we, as a society, should do everything possible to ensure the security of those devices. As a testament to the importance of this, Doctorow cited one example of this government’s approach to security, “There’s a reason Dick Cheney turned the wireless interface in his pacemaker off.”

Digital Rights Management, according to Doctorow has ate away at the foundations of computer security. DRM, as it stands, is not true cryptography. It is, as Doctorow would say, “Voodoo cryptography.”

Instead of true cyphers, which would encrypt a message in transit, DRM attempts to encrypt a message as it’s being read by hiding the decoder ring. But of course, if I have the decoder ring, I can decode the message. In Doctorow’s example of video DRM, that movie watcher might instead be a “bored grad student with an electron microscope and a grudge.”

Doctorow explains, by citing examples from his work with standards organizations, that because of the decoder-ring, electron microscope issue it would be better to legislate and make any attempts reverse engineer DRM illegal.

This, in turn, allows DRM-laden software manufacturers to drip-feed features (and possibly anti-features) instead of letting an aftermarket develop.

My own metaphor: Instead of allowing an aftermarket to develop for a vehicle’s spark plugs, DRM’ed spark plugs are only available through your licensed dealer. And only that dealer can install them. Spark plugs installed without the proper authorization simply won’t let your car start. Aftermarket spark plugs, or even measuring and sharing the dimensions of a spark plug is illegal.

Doctorow’s approach to proponents of DRM and closed platforms is zero-tolerance. He advocates and evangelizes for a free (as in speech, not as in beer) and open Internet and for open source software.

Cory finished his lecture with a more emotional connection. He acknowledges that his living comes from selling ebooks, which of course often come with DRM. He notes that while he’s able to earn a living selling DRM-free ebooks, the ability to “bequeath an open and free world” to his daughter is even more important.

It is this generation’s burden to defend Internet neutrality and digital rights.

I’ve read one of Doctorow’s books, and fully intend on picking up the others. He writes fiction, but like anyone with passion, these issues will come through in his writing.

GeekyLibrary is built using the open source publishing platform, WordPress. And I personally have (and will continue) to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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One Comment

  • I loved this talk— I’ve considered these issues important, but it was an eye-opener for me.

    The problem definitely deserves more priority than the vast majority of people give it.

    Kallen Kentner · · Reply

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