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Cory Doctorow Primer for the Unindocrinated

May 31, 2009

Clarity of vision is what distinguishes innovators from risk-takers. Meet Cory Doctorow, writer, digital rights activist and pioneer.

The Toronto-born science-fiction writer is the founder of the world’s most popular blog, Boing Boing, contributor to magazines ranging from Wired to Forbes , a founder of the Open Rights Group, a Fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, author of the first novel to be published under the Creative Commons license and achiever of accomplishments too numerous to mention. He has dropped out of more universities than you have attended, and yet was made a Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy and a visiting professor at University of Southern California, despite never having earned a degree.

As an artist, he has demonstrated an ability to prosper within a business model that utilizes free culture as a marketing and distribution strategy.

Digital Hippy or Visionary Businessman?

What was Doctorow thinking when he convinced his publisher to release Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for free distribution? – That he was more threatened by obscurity than lost sales. He hypothesized that most of the people who would download the book would never have bought it, so no sales would be lost. Giving a digital version away would achieve large-scale distribution to a wider audience, some of whom would want to donate for a download or buy a hard copy; revenue gained. A few readers would treat the download as a replacement for purchase, equaling lost sales. So long as gains exceeded losses, he was ahead, and the gamble worked. This was no anomaly; Doctorow has made his other books available and earns a comfortable living, he claims because of this model.


Doctorow evangelizes the principles Creative Commons, and “Copyfights” to bring publishing industries in line with the way creative works are increasingly distributed in the digital era. He warns that application of copyright measures such as DRM restrict innovation, criminalize consumers, and impose laws intended for industry licensing onto private individuals.

He has spoken eloquently to audiences ranging from Google to publisher’s conventions about the inevitability of free information, and proposed a model where all Internet users would pay a small fee. ISPs would send as a flat-license to be distributed by a collection agency as royalties to artists an alternative to strict copyright enforcement.

You can hear his entertaining, illuminating and creative ideas in podcasts, videos and writings all over the web.

One Comment leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    June 5, 2009 8:17 pm

    Thank you for a fascinating post – i enjoyed this very much. R

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