Guest post: Cory Doctorow in SFO.

Cory Doctorow is currently on tour promoting his new book, For the Win. It’s about gold farmers in MMORPGs that unionize to combat the terrible working conditions of their computer sweatshops. If you’ve read Cory’s short story, Anda’s Game, which is the first fiction based on gold farming and nearly one of the first reports on the practice, you will feel right at home with the characters and situations in For the Win. If not, do not fear! Cory’s writing does not assume you have anything but an open mind.

The book has a number of primary characters scattered all over the world, connected in the virtual gaming space. Following a reading — wherein a Bay Area local boy interacts with some Chinese gold farmers who turn out to be more than he imagined them to be — Cory gave a talk about copyright and how it is perceived by the copyright holders and producers.

Cory then talked about appliances. These are devices like the Apple iPad, an Amazon Kindle and most mobile phones. Like Jonathan Zittrain, Doctorow finds the proliferation of appliances troubling. The problem, in a nutshell and in my own words is that appliances are purpose-built devices with one aim: to lock the consumer into a vertical market from which there is no escape, except a complete re-purchase of a different device and all the content (games, videos, music, books, etc) that the user of the appliance has already paid for.

Cory had a great anecdote about a friend that argued that dishwashers were appliances, so are they equally as bad? Cory’s rebuttal was that manufacturers do not create a dishwasher that can only clean pre-approved dishes and then follow up with a lawsuit if you attempt to use different dishes in the machine.

Some random notes and quotes from the talk:

  • There were a couple of little jabs at Bono, who has proposed to use Chinese firewall technology to block the trading of files on the Internet.
  • If you have to ask, you will never get it.
  • Do not buy into the BS.
  • Canadians: we’re everywhere, like serial killers. [It’s true! AC]
  • Music industry is gullible and will buy magic boogieman charms but then get knifed by mandatory 99 cent downloads.
  • You can have a megalomaniac in a turtleneck that tells you how things should be, and still have a checkbox that says “I’m an adult, I can make my own decisions”.
  • Copyright is abstruse and listening to people talk about it is often like listening to 12 year olds talk about sex.

But essentially, the message of the talk is that it’s time to stop making excuses and compromises. Telling yourself that buying a locked-down device is okay because you will only use it for a short time is disingenuous: it supports vertical business models and closed, Cathedral systems.

You’ve missed SFO, AUS & RDU, but if you live in NYC or YYZ, you can still catch Cory’s book tour. He is a great and impassioned speaker, so I highly recommend seeing him.

The audio from the EFF/Cory event is here.

Kevin Neely is a social media dabbler, sometime blogger, all-the-time techie and avowed oenophile. He started with open source software by downloading 20 Slackware floppies via 14.4k modem, but now takes the easy way out and runs Ubuntu. He has a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University where his final paper was about the then-forthcoming GPLv3, but chooses to work on information security and privacy issues in Silicon Valley. You can find and contact him on Twitter or

P.S. Nothing he says should be construed as legal advice. Ever.


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