Volume 32, Number 01, Fall, 2013

Prometheus Award acceptance speech

Cory Doctorow, for Pirate Cinema

When I started thinking critically about copyright and the Internet, I came at it as an artist, thinking about what I knew about creativity. I came out of science fiction, where we've been ripping each other's ideas and storylines and titles off since the earliest pulp era, to the great benefit of our genre. Of course remixing is the heart of creativity. Of course we stand on the shoulders of giants. As the protagonist of this novel remarks, “creativity means combining two things in a way that no one has ever thought of combining them before,” or as my mentor Judith Merril wrote in her Hugo-winning memoir Better to Have Loved:

Whereas in other literary fields you wouldn't dare take an idea from another writer and use it, because that would be considered plagiarism, science fiction people loved to build on each other's stories. The business of giving away ideas and promoting other people's work was part of the community at large.

But as the years went by and the fight wore on, I realized that I was coming at it from a very parochial angle. Earning a living in the arts is an unlikely thing, and adapting Internet regulation to maximize the benefit of the miniscule minority of professional artists was flat-out insane. After all, the Internet is the nervous system of the 21st century—everything we do today involves the Internet and everything we do tomorrow will require it. The rules that govern the Internet ultimately regulate every corner of human existence, from falling in love to getting an education to electing a government to organizing the street-protests that bring that government down again.

Once you get to thinking of things that way, you start to realize that even if the absence of rules that imposed unaccountable censorship and universal surveillance and the subversion of the integrity of the computers in our pockets, walls and bodies meant the end of the entertainment industry and my relegation to the breadline, they'd still be worth it.

Now, I happen to think we can go on creating even in a world where we're not allowed to spy on everyone and break their computers to make sure they're not listening to music or watching TV or reading books the wrong way. I happen to think that we can guarantee a living to a comparably sized, statistically insignificant rump of would-be artists, even without the power to secretly and unaccountably censor the Internet. But even if that weren't the case, we should still throw out censorship, surveillance and control as unfit for purpose.

This year has seen incredible revelations about the scope and scale of the global Internet surveillance and the total lack of adult supervision for the world's clutch of depraved spooks. We've known about mass surveillance for three presidential administrations, since Mark Klein bravely blew the whistle on AT&T's work with the NSA in 2005, but the Snowden leaks have blown the lid off things and given the stalled court actions over Klein's leaks the momentum they need to push forward.

But even if we beat back the spooks, even if we kick Big Content in the pants and send them packing, the fight's just getting started. Every single problem everyone has from now on will involve the Internet, because the Internet will be woven into every facet of our lives. Every problem will suggest the solution that coked-up Hollyweird fatcats and the creeps who read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a manual for statecraft arrived at: just break the Internet so that my problem goes away.

This fight is getting started, and it has no end in sight. Organizations like EFF and the ACLU and the Free Software Foundation and Fight for the Future are the best bulwark we have against the special pleading that says, “If I don't get to redesign the Internet to solve my problems, there's going to be trouble.”

Thank you very, very much for this honor. Pirate Cinema just keeps on getting more topical, and I hope that your recognition will help it spread to the places it needs to be heard, and help to create a generation who'll stand up for the network we all depend upon.

Photos that accompanied this article are available in the online copy of the original newsletter.

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