Sunday, October 03, 2010

Romanticizing Punks

Glamorizing the common thief, and especially the uncommon thief, is not new. Who remembers Richard Green (real name Richard Greene) as "Robin Hood"?

"Feared by the bad, Loved by the good..." Legend would have us believe that Robin Hood was all about the forced liberation and redistribution of tangible wealth. Today, cyber piracy is about the liberation of, and free distribution of intellectual "wealth".

Are hackers the new "Robin Hood"?

Do hackers and pirates deserve a whole subgenre of romantic fiction devoted to their noble exploits? As Wikipedia states:
Cyberpunk is a Science fiction genre noted for its focus on high tech and low life. The name is a blend of cybernetics and punk and was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story "Cyberpunk", published in 1983.

It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict among hackers and megacorporations....
Steampunk appears to be more "respectable", although it is closely related in the pantheon of science fiction subgenres (if "pantheon" is the right word, which it probably isn't). The hero of The Time Machine was a gentleman. Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) might have been piratical, but he was also an officer and a gentleman... at least as portrayed by James Mason, and latterly by Naseeruddin Shah as the fascinating Indian Nemo in the modern Victorian Superhero film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I'm not an expert or even a particular fan of steampunk or cyberpunk, but I am interested in science, history, the future, sociology, psychology, politics, and ethics.

This is beside the point, but I am also very concerned about the way society is going... the pressure upon members of Western society to use cellphones and other wireless mobile devices, and not just to use them occasionally for brief conversations, but to use them continually, and for sustained periods. What if they really do cause cancer, as Northern Europeans have been warning for some years? Where will those cancers form? Brains. Groins. Hands. What else might mobile media devices do to our minds?

As an internet radio talk show host, I have to ask my call-in guests to use landlines. The quality of cellphones may sound fine to the naked ear, but it doesn't re-broadcast well. I'm slightly alarmed that so many people these days don't have access to a landline, even as back-up. What happens if the satellites go down?

One of the modern Robin Hood types (in my personal opinion) that flew across my radar recently suggests that Peer-to-Peer should be monetized on mobile devices. (There's the link.) My reading of his plan --and my reading might be inaccurate-- is that he will decide what all forms of electronic content are worth, and enforce the collection and payment of that "fair" compensation. If content creators sign up with him, he will pay them what he thinks their work is worth, based on sales (I assume. I may be wrong). I infer that if creators do not sign up with him, their work will be reproduced and distributed anyway (and they won't be paid).

It sounds very "Google Book Settlement" to me.

Speaking metaphorically, and in the context of a notional hierarchy within the book industry, I've never thought of myself as an "Aristocrat" (and I still don't. I'm low list and out-of-print as of July 31st.) However, the vainglorious postings by pirates on Richard Curtis's blog about "good pirates" and "bad pirates" and pride in being part of "the revolution" makes me wonder.

This is Fair Use for the purpose of commentary and critique...
“Good pirates love the art, and often the artists, and they also love communication, creativity, social justice, networking, cooperation, fair trade, etc. They take pieces of art and make them available for free, not making any money off of it, gaining only a sense of satisfaction at participating in the revolution.”
So, according to persons who --one might reasonably infer-- think of themselves as "good pirates", there is a Revolution underway.

Presumably, the valiant, lone hackers are battling megacorporations, like their cyberpunk fictional heroes. That explains why the standard arguments to justify piracy focus on unnamed, greedy publishing houses that charge too much, or impersonal copyright organizations known by upper case acronyms, and seldom mention the very small, e-publishing presses, or named mid-list authors.

What is this Revolution? What is the purpose of it? What happens if the Revolution succeeds?

Instead of assembling in the streets, are disaffected unemployed people fomenting unrest and looting via their computers (and I hear that American welfare benefits include free internet access)?

Thinking of all the Revolutions of history, they're supposed to be good for whoever happens to be the underdog, and bad for the establishment. Often, they are also bad for those who might be considered collateral damage.

The British Industrial Revolution, and the Agricultural Revolution resulted in progress, automation, social change, migrations to bigger cities, a different form of exploitation for the producers and workers. The French Revolution might have been splendid fun for the sans culottes…. would one call the guillotining of aristocrats (including children) a form of populism?

Don't most revolutions end up with a different tyrant in charge, but those who were oppressed in the first place remain oppressed? Authors, photographers, artists, models and musicians who might, or might not be, exploited and oppressed by megacorporations will probably end up being exploited by the good pirate kings.

It's been a long time since I studied the rules of what I'm not supposed to write. Once upon a time, it was frowned upon for writers to write about heroes and heroines who are writers, but it seems to me, if one wanted to write a post-cyberpunk underdog story, the heroes and heroines ought to be writers.

Rowena Cherry


  1. "Don't most revolutions end up with a different tyrant in charge, but those who were oppressed in the first place remain oppressed?"

    Indeed! So, what we have now for media outlets will be replaced by ??? and still, the little people will end up paying somehow - if not for content, then for access maybe - but just paying a different corporation.

    BTW I watched an interesting episode of Farscape in which the world of Litigara was shown. On this world, more and more people became lawyers - about 90% of the population was lawyers! - and the law had to become more complicated in order to justify the existence of those upper class lawyers. Well, can you guess who ruled the world?

    Not an elected official.
    Not a monarch.
    A legal firm!

    That's how it goes.....

    Maybe that's why we have post apocalyptic fiction??? :)

  2. I'm concerned by the concept that this fellow should decide the "appropriate price". Why should he be allowed to step into what is a contract between buyer and seller? I think young people often want to be part of a "revolution". They think it's romantic. But in the case of creative piracy, the real motivation is much more mundane. They steal because they can. All the creative content they want for free. What's not to like? But theft of any sort undermines the concept of law and order on which a civilized society is based. If we tolerate theft of any kind (as we currently do with music and now books and movies), we're undermining the structure of our society. So in that sense, it is a revolution (though I don't think that's why these pirates are doing it).
    Good post.

  3. I'm with you, Carly. It's not anyone's JOB but mine and my publisher's to do these things. It's no one's RIGHT to but mine and contracted to my publishers by me.


  4. Whenever I hear the argument that pirates are taking from the rich and giving to those who "deserve" to read too, it astounds me. My publishers aren't big and neither am I. However, at any given time I can multiple titles under my two names being pirated. One day I found fifteen different titles from a single pirate. These people aren't romantic...they're thieves, plain and simple.

  5. Well-stated, Rowena.

    Here's something I never considered in this issue-