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Content by Cory Doctorow

I received a review copy of Cory Doctorow’s first book of collected non-fiction, “Content,” from Tachyon Publications the other day. Here’s a disclaimer that may or may not be necessary: While Cory and I have never met in person and I don’t think we’ve corresponded electronically, we do have a lot of mutual friends, once-removed community connections, he’s posted stuff about me on BoingBoing.net, and I’m pretty sure we’re friends on Facebook. I was asked to review “Content” by a third party.

“Content” features twenty eight essays, articles, and presentation transcripts originally published over the last seven years in The Guardian, Forbes, Information Week and elsewhere. The context of some of the material is, given the quicksilver nature of Internet history, a little dated, but the overarching message is hyper-relevant: art, creativity and the relationship of all expression to the mass media industry is in a state of extreme flux.

As an author, Doctorow has, as he says, “a dog in this fight,” and he makes it clear that it is a fight: against digital rights management (“…bad for society… business… artists…”) the erosion of privacy (“…ubiquitous cameras only serve to violate the social contract that makes cities work”) and the danger of the remarkable opportunities of the information age being curtailed by the lobbying of old-media giants desperate to maintain control of the splintering pipe.

Doctorow also advocates for e-books, demolishes the vilification of file-sharing, and exemplifies the commercial value of giving creative material away from free by appealing to both common sense and the evidence of the last ten years.

In each of these essays, Doctorow slides passionate arguments on the future of creativity and society in a conversational, casual and humorous delivery mechanism. It’s difficult to say if his efforts will have much impact eroding the moribund convictions of the entertainment industry, but they may not be the target audience for “Content.” On the other hand, if all those Generation Z and proto-Singularity kids reading Doctorow’s “Little Brother” also find their way to “Content,” this book may well become a classic.

If you’re a creative person, if you’re a “content” consumer, if you’ve ever been dismayed to discover you don’t own the music or movie or software you thought you bought… you need to read “Content.” Even if, like me, you agree with most of Cory Doctorow’s positions and advocate many of the same principles, it’s worth your time — you’ll find yourself energized and rejuvenated.

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