Friday, September 26, 2008

save Cory!

Yeah, that's right, I've been busy and therefore not blogging. I apologize to my several readers.

Here's a little food for the eyes. My latest THIS Magazine books column is now online. In it, I disagree with the many, many gushing reviews Cory Doctorow's young adult novel, Little Brother, has attracted.

Me and Spider Robinson not in agreement? How is that possible? We're practically the same person.

Anyway, here you go:

Little Lessons

As is often the case with this column, I want to thank Evan Munday for an excellent illustration.


doctorow said...

A factual correction -- the supplemental material ("The copyright thing" and the Creative Commons license) you reference does not appear in the book. It appears in the free electronic editions. I believe that this is an important distinction and hope that you will ask your editors to correct the article.

John said...

Hmmm, thanks for the feedback. I do make it clear in the column that I'm reviewing the free download and not the printed book. I'm not sure a correction is necessary, but I'll pass the info on to the THIS editors. Of course, you always have the option of a letter to the editor as well. I would encourage that.

It's interesting to me that an author would want the digital form of a text to contain extra information that appears in textual form. The Copyright Thing and the CC license both print out as part of what I would think of as the downloaded "book." I would have thought if those elements weren't intended to be part of the "book," they would have appeared as links or some other form of reference.

Anyway, what is a book these days?

doctorow said...

I think that people come to printed, commercial books with a lot of foreknowledge and normative expectations that they don't bring to free, Creative Commons-licensed editions. Including supplemental material in the CC edition bridges that gap. My earlier books are available on literally thousands of servers, so there's no reason to suspect a reader who turns to them will know what a CC license is, who I am, that the book exists at all in print form, etc.

Moreover, since the ebook is intended as an enticement to purchase the printed book, it makes good sense to make that clear (this is explained in detail in the essay you city, "The Copyright Thing").

The CC license (at the end of the book) is a legal license written by the Creative Commons project, a network of global nonprofits that are attempting to simplify the process of legally sharing texts. It is a broad and permissive license -- more permissive than anything you've ever bought in a shop, where even the public domain works bear the legend "All Rights Reserved." Unlike other fine-print licenses, every word in the CC license grants you new rights and affirms your existing rights. I did not write the license, of course, and Little Brother is just one of more than 160 million works that carry it.

It could, I suppose, be included in the print edition (since that edition carries the same license, except for the cover-art), but I believe that there's little likelihood that the print edition will be widely reproduced under a CC license, due to the relative complexity of reproducing physical objects as compared to digital ones. Where readers have made their own print editions (to be distributed for free), they have indeed included the license (but there again, the normative expectations surrounding a book in a shop are not likely to include the freedoms that travel with the homebrew print editions).

John said...

Thanks for the explanation.

I'm still going to stick with what I've written. As a reviewer, I respond to the text in front of me. I read your attempt to 'bridge the gap' as a specifically political manipulation of the form your book takes in the digital world.

That's interesting to me as a critic, and as a writer. My own publisher and I had a long discussion about the form of my own free PDF downloadable novel. Granted, my novel was PDFed after it had been commercially available as a physical book for well over a year, so our approaches are very different. Still, Nightwood Editions and I did not feel compelled to add on supplemental explanatory material beyond a recognition that the download represented a new 'edition' of the book. I'm not saying there's a right or wrong here; just noting the difference and giving a critical opinion of it.

While I have you here, Cory, maybe you can answer something else. Since posting this review, I posted about Michael Geist's copyright pledge. I see you've done the same on Boing Boing.

I understand Boing Boing moderates comments to keep conversations civil. But while you are here in my comments section freely and civilly disagreeing with a review I've written, I am having links removed and entire, civil, comments unposted over at Boing Boing.

What's up with that?

Disconnect said...

I've also had comments and a link removed at Boing Boing.

I used Cory's story at The Bookseller about the future of books as inspiration for a different future of books, but the link was removed. I thought re-imagining the same material was what this "open" stuff was all about?