IP lawyer Stuart Langley wrote a fantastic analysis of the legal issues raised in my novel Pirate Cinema a guest-article for the wonderful Law and the Multiverse site. Langley does a very thorough job of looking at the real laws and legal problems behind the plot points in the book.
The McCauley’s internet access has been disconnected consistently with what appears to be an implementation of the United Kingdom Digital Economy Act 2010. Implementation of this act has been slow, but is expected to lead to notices and service disruption as early as 2014. The implementing code of this act obligates ISPs to respond to copyright infringement reports by notice to subscribers, maintain a list of subscribers that have received notices which can be disclosed to copyright owners under court order, and degrade or deny service to repeat offenders. The technical measures imposed by the law will be appealable; on paper the appeal processes appear designed to protect subscribers, however, the regulations on the appeal process have not yet been published. This foundational scenario in Pirate Cinema is plausible.
But whether it is acceptable to cut off internet access as punishment for violating how that service is used is another question. Because of the disconnection Trent’s father cannot find work, his mother cannot find medical care, and his sister’s schooling suffers. Is internet access is a public utility that should be more difficult to disconnect than summary and unilateral administrative action? As explained in Jim Rossi’s article Universal Service in Competitive Retail Electric Power Markets: Whither the Duty to Serve? 21 Energy L.J. 27 (2000), common law principles express a public utility having a higher obligation to provide service—to provide extraordinary levels of service, especially to small residential customers. These obligations include the duty to extend service, provide continuing reliable service, provide advanced notice of disconnection and to continue service even though a customer cannot make full payment. Public utilities can have terms of service and can terminate service for violations, commonly payment and safety related transgressions. One U.S. city proposed to cut off utility service for failure to pay speeding tickets, although using utility service as a tool to enforce other regulations seems very unusual and inconsistent with the common law “duty to serve”. The question posed by Pirate Cinema is timely as governments try to regulate internet access, they do so by treating it as a public utility. This will be a double edged sword in that one treated as a utility, society should, perhaps, have a higher duty to provide internet access and similarly higher barriers before disconnecting service, including greater due process and evidentiary protections for subscribers.
Damien Walter's written a very kind article about me and my work in the Guardian's books section, discussing the role of science fiction in social criticism and activism.
As technology becomes an ever bigger factor in day-to-day life, we need writers like Doctorow to help us direct it to support freedom over oppression. In his other writing, including Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Makers, Doctorow has explored the more optimistic futures that technology might shape. I took some inspiration from Doctorow's work recently in thinking through the potential of an emerging creator culture, one where the great potential of technology is harnessed not to manipulate people for greater profit, but to liberate their natural creativity. It's my gut instinct that our future, much like our today, will be a stark mixture of both Big Brother and creator culture, with all the possibilities in between also represented. But what do you think? Where is the technology of today leading us tomorrow?
My latest Guardian column is "What I wish Tim Berners-Lee understood about DRM," a response to the Web inventor's remarks about DRM during the Q&A at his SXSW talk last week.
Additionally, all DRM licence agreements come with a set of "robustness" rules that require manufacturers to design their equipment so that owners can't see what they're doing or modify them. That's to prevent device owners from reconfiguring their property to do forbidden things ("save to disk"), or ignore mandatory things ("check for regions").
Adding DRM to the HTML standard will have far-reaching effects that are incompatible with the W3C's most important policies, and with Berners-Lee's deeply held principles.
For example, the W3C has led the world's standards bodies in insisting that its standards are not encumbered by patents. Where W3C members hold patents that cover some part of a standard, they must promise to license them to all comers without burdensome conditions. But DRM requires patents or other licensable elements, for the sole purpose of adding burdensome conditions to browsers.
The first of these conditions – "robustness" against end-user modification – is a blanket ban on all free/open source software (free/open source software, by definition, can be modified by its users). That means that the two most popular browser technologies on the Web – WebKit (used in Chrome and Safari) and Gecko (used in Firefox and related browsers) – would be legally prohibited from implementing whatever "standard" the W3C emerges.
==ABOUT DAVID BRIN’S BOOKS==
--Which of your own novels is your personal favorite?
That’s like asking: Which of your children do you like best? Glory Season is my brave, indomitable daughter. The Postman is my courageous, civilization-saving son. Earth is the child who combined science and nature to become a planet. The Uplift War…well, I never had a better character than Fiben the earthy-intellectual chimp!
--Were you happy with the Kevin Costner adaptation of your post-apocalyptic novel The Postman?
The Postman was written as an answer to all those post-apocalypse books and films that seem to revel in the idea of civilization’s fall. It’s a story about how much we take for granted – and how desperately we would miss the little, gracious things that connect us today. It is a story about the last idealist in a fallen America. One who cannot let go of a dream we all once shared. Who sparks restored faith that we can recover, and perhaps even become better than we were.
Was The Postman film faithful to this? Well, despite several scenes that can only be called self-indulgent, or even goofy… plus the fact that I was never consulted, even once… I nevertheless came away more pleased than unhappy with what Costner created. Though flawed, it’s a pretty good flick – if you let yourself get into it. One that deals (a bit simplistically) with important issues and is more faithful to the book's inner heart than I expected at any point during the long decade before it was released.
Costner’s postman is a man of decency, a calloused idealist, not particularly courageous, who has to learn the hard way about responsibility and what it means to be a hero. The movie is filled with scenes that convey how deeply we would miss the little things… and big ones like freedom and justice. In fact, it includes some clever or touching moments that I wish I’d thought of, when writing the book.
Visually and musically, it’s as beautiful as Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner is foremost a cinematographer, I will gladly grant him that. Rent and watch it on a wide screen.
Would I have done things differently? You bet! In a million ways. But I didn’t have the 80 million dollars to make it, and in keeping true to the heart of the book, Costner earned some leeway when it came to brains. Anyway, life is filled with compromises. I’d rather look for reasons to be happy.
I have posted my full response, discussing the book and the movie, on my website: http://www.davidbrin.com/postmanmovie.html
--Are you planning on returning to the Uplift Universe?
Yes. Soon, even! Next big thing. Have a look at the Uplift Universe Web Site.
--Can you reveal some of the inspirations behind the Uplift Saga? How did you come up with the idea?
If we don't find intelligent life in the galaxy, humanity will create it. We might contrive new entities through artificial intelligence. It could happen the American way - by encouraging more and more of us to diversify in new directions, with new interests and passions and quirky viewpoints. And of course, diversity spreads whenever we add new intelligent life forms called our children.
Then there is the idea of creating other kinds of beings to talk to through some change in the animal species that already exist around us.
Other authors have poked at this idea before. Cordwainer Smith and Pierre Boulle and H.G. Wells. Boulle’s Planet of the Apes and Wells's The Food of the Gods or The Island of Dr. Moreau, and all other attempts to deal with this topic did stick to just one perspective, however. Just one dire warning.
They all portray the power to bestow speech being executed in secret by mad scientists, then horribly abused by turning these new intelligent life forms into slaves.
I believe that - partly because of these cautionary tales - that's not what we will do. Because of those self-preventing prophecies, I wanted to show something else instead. What if we try to uplift other creatures with good intentions? With the aim of making them fellow citizens, interesting people, accepting that in some ways they might be better than us?
Certainly that's worth a thought experiment too? Adding to the diversity and perspective and wisdom of an ever-widening Earth culture?
Wouldn't those creatures still have interesting problems? Of course they would! More complex and interesting than mere slavery. At least, that is what I hoped to explore.
For more on Uplift: See Intelligence, Uplift and our place in a big cosmos
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==Return to Part 1: Questions about Writing and Science Fiction
or Part 2: Questions about Science Fiction and Fantasy
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
Here's a reading of my recent Locus column, Ten Years On, in which I reflect on my first decade as a novelist and discuss a possible further volume related to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, my first-ever novel:
I never thought I’d write a sequel. The allure of writing books has always been the experience of discovering and exploring a place and people that have been cooked up by my imagination. By the time I’ve squeezed the book out through my fingertips, I’m generally pretty sick of that place and those people, and frankly glad to be shut of them. But a sequel to Little Brother happened, and when it was done, I discovered that I’d thoroughly enjoyed it. It was like discovering that a whole gang of close friends I’d lost touch with after high-school had stayed tight, and were happy to welcome me back into their bosom. Thoroughly enjoyed it? It was amazing.
Back to February 2013. When my publisher told me that the book would come out on Feb 5, I immediately flashed back on Feb 3, 2003, ten years and two days before the publication of Homeland, when my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published. D&O was all kinds of firsts: the first novel I’d ever written, the first book of mine Tor ever published, and the first Creative Commons licensed novel – ever. It’s shocking to think that an entire decade has roared past in the interim, with 14 more books in print, and another two (Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, a non-fiction book; and Anda’s Game, a full-length graphic novel from First Second) in the pipeline.
Realizing that I was a decade into my writing career literally staggered me. I missed a step while walking down the street and nearly fell over.
Mastering by John Taylor Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."