Friday, 2 November 2012

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Lowdown: A teenager producing pirate films fights to set the Internet free through his creations.
Cory Doctorow is an author whose books I like even before I read them. There are reasons for that: the guy stands by his principles, and publishes his books online, free for all to download. Those books happen to be very well targeted at me, with examples such as Little Brother discussing the way in which our personal freedoms have been happily sacrificed on the altar of an elusive war on terrorism. Or For the Win, which has a lot to say about the illnesses of our world's economy through the prism of the world of online gaming. Pirate Cinema loyally follows this formula: a young adult science fiction book, of the type that could happen tomorrow and is already happening to one extent or another, this time dealing with the concepts of piracy and the freedom of the Internet.
The story starts at northern England’s Bradford, a kind of town no tourist has any reason to visit. Our first person hero for the duration of the book: 16 year old Trent. Trent is a mad fan of a now deceased cinema star, and the manifestation of his fandom lies in his creation of mashup films that use the star’s original footage to tell completely different stories. Being the son of a poor family, with a disabled mother and a father for whom paid work is not easy to acquire, Trent does not ask the movie studios to send him their material; he acquires his raw material through piracy. Problem is, this piracy causes the disconnection of his house off the Internet, bringing catastrophic outcomes to the family: the mother cannot get her disability allowance, the father cannot work from home, and the sister cannot do her homework anymore. As in, they all can do their tasks still, but everything becomes so much harder it is, in effect, unfeasible.
Trent takes his blame hard, hard enough to disappear with only his laptop and a change of clothing and head for London. There harsh reality strikes: he has no place to stay, no money, and his bag and laptop are stolen. In desperation he looks at beggars for inspiration, and an enterprising member of that community – Jem – takes our Trent as an apprentice. Jem shows Trent how to get luxury food off skips, how to squat, and how to share the spoils with their less capable fellows. Together with a few more allies they develop an ideal anarchistic society at the pub they’re squatting, and Trent finally has the time and the means to be on the Internet again. The community he is now part of airs his films at cemeteries and sewers across London, and Trent becomes famous. He gets himself a girlfriend, he is the head figure of a fight against Internet suppressing legislation, and as a direct result he is now enemy #1 of the copyright industry.
If I have any criticism towards Pirate Cinema it is to do with the obvious similarities in style and story with Doctorow’s Little Brother. The two are essentially the same tale told the same way but with different baddies. Other than that, though, Pirate Cinema won me through and through.
If you are familiar with Doctorow (and this reader of BoingBoing is), you will see Doctorow in person at every corner of this book. From the things Trent packs when going away through jibes at Dominos Pizza and references to home brew coffee, all the elements that make a Doctorow book are firmly here. Including, of course, that pro Internet freedom stand this hero of mine takes on a daily basis on his blog and as an activist. Being that Doctorow and I pretty much agree on almost everything, Pirate Cinema certainly hit home with this armchair pirate.
Although unequivocally set in our future (probably two to three decades away), the relevancy of Pirate Cinema’s message is unmistakable. The UK already has its legislation for cutting households off the Internet in cases of piracy, and the USA is just in the process of commencing its own program. In the meantime, between taking down Megaupload for all the wrong reasons and coming up with legislation proposals such as SOPA, it is clear the copyright industry owns our legislative bodies in its pockets. And through secretly coming up with international agreements such as ACTA, they work their way around our Internet and our culture. These are exactly the things Doctorow talks about in his book, showing us the light and clearly demonstrating which side is in the right.
I agree with Doctorow that the copyright industries are fighting a losing battle and that the only questions are how long it would take them to lose and how many of us they will take down with them. However, as with The Case for Copyright Reform, Doctorow goes further to demonstrate why the revolutionary idea of piracy is so important by showing piracy is essential for the development of our culture. By Doctorow’s logic, with which I concur, pirates are doing society a favor! Think about it this way: without the pirates, there would have never been an iTunes shop, not to mention Spotify. If more people realize this through Doctorow’s entertaining book then the world would be a better place. Me, I was happy to spend several days with this highly entertaining, thought provoking, easy to read yet educational book.
Overall: Doctorow excels at bringing his personal views to the level of a young adult and doing it ever so entertainingly. I love the guy and am very proud to have met him in person. For now, Pirate Cinema gets 4.5 out of 5 stars from me – highly recommended to any pirate or would be pirate!
Closing comments: Even though I downloaded Pirate Cinema from Doctorow’s website here, I bought it “again” through the Humble Bundle a few days later. Clearly, I have such a massive dick. Either that or I appreciate everything Doctorow is trying to do in his book as well as in the Humble Bundle (in whose coordination he was involved).

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