Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow.  New York: Tor Teen Books/Tom Doherty Associates, L.L.C., 2012.  e-book, 876 pps.

After finishing Pirate Cinema, I  wandered around the homestead for several days belting out:

          Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late.
          The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder.
          I'm an over-forty victim of fate
          Arriving too late, arriving too late.

                               [Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at Forty]

          I'm a filthy lil hacker but I still shine.
                               [YTCracker, Computer Crimes]

much to the horror of my housemate.  Yes, Pirate Cinema is that kind of a book.  London isn't like any place that I've been except through reading.  Cory Doctorow does an excellent job of transporting me right there to a squatter's building that used to be an old pub, a bunch of friends who are righteous about pirating films in order to splice them up into new and unique art, and a Parliamentary fight which also included a sneering nod to the Intellectual Property Monopoly.  Trent's flatmates became my flatmates [although he did get to keep his girlfriend].  His pirate buddies became my pirate buddies.  The film parties became ones that I also attended, dancing away to pounding tunes in a corner until the lights get put out and the movie reels begin.  Trent's bio-fam didn't become my bio-fam.  The differences were too glaring for that.  But in all of the rest, his people became my people.  Because the struggles in Pirate Cinema are my struggles and the struggles of some of my closest Internet buddies.

I'd never heard of pirating until a few years back.  A bunch of us used to snicker whenever one P2P file sharing networks in particular was mentioned.  We used to call it "Virus Wire."  I never used it.  Re-formatting is a pain.  I've had to do it once or twice.  No use in signing up to do it on purpose unless it's a job thing with some salary attached.  I certainly knew about censorship.  As a writer, one cannot help but know something about censorship.  I found the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the web.  Watched as a good blogger buddy of mine got kicked from Yahell 359.  Well, okay.  I was a bit jealous.  I'd wanted to be provocative enough to be kicked from there too.  [I wasn't].  In typical maddening fashion, that blogging site let the guys perverted sickos who had pictures of penises and little boys on their profiles stay on.  But my buddy, who wrote stuff that made people think, got kicked.  Go figure.  Hackers, white hats, gray hats, black hats, purple hats, crackers, slackers, V.P.N.s, piggybacking, squatting, thumb drives, all of that I had run into.  I knew bits and pieces of things.

2012 was the year when I was able to put the pieces together.  I became unstuck.  Started activating again.  Last year was when I became un-brain dead to some of the more heated struggles around me which were resulting in young people having extraordinary legal hassles because they were downloading songs and movies.  I participated in Black March 2012 boycott and started really studying the legal mumble jumble coming out of Big Hollywood. 

 I'd been to Montreal several times.  A few years before 2012, I had picked up some French cowboy music and had a conversation with the young man behind the counter of the music shop.  He told me that Canada put a surcharge on the music to cover folks wanting to make an extra copy or whatever.  Something like that.  Cory Doctorow suggested something similar in Pirate Cinema.  It makes much more sense to me than the United States using some kind of weird Immigration Law thingy to try to import one English lad to court and maybe prison for putting links on his website to a site that had some television shows available.  The young man actually had done nothing wrong according to English law as I understood it.  He merely provided some links.  [Actually, the way I remember it is that in England, those downloads being offered by the other site were also legal].  At any rate, the proffered solution in Pirate Cinema was for the I.S.P. companies to set a reasonable licensing fee so we users could legally download songs and films and stuff like that.  This extra fee-- a few dollars a month for anyone who opted in-- would be distributed to the creators and the artists [and maybe to the big companies] whose stuff we the people wanted to download.

Trent and his buddies were into revising films by taking frames from various ones, add a bit of computer animation, and voila-- a new short made from used bits.  This sounds like fun.  Reminded me a bit of some of the things we used to splice together at a college radio station.  I was actually fairly good at fixing those old tape reels when they broke.  Reminded also of collages.  I've made a few of those.  Even took a class in that once for fun.  No one seems to be going after the collage makers.  After all, a collage is bits of [our own and/or other peoples'] pictures and shapes and words glued on paper to create a derivative work.  Fair use is killed now.  Which sucks.  So yeah, I think giving up a few extra bucks a month is way cheaper than bunches of people winding up in prisons and stuff like that.

The other thing I absolutely loved about Pirate Cinema is the techie parts.  I've known about dumpster diving for discarded electronic components and other bits and even for food.  I understood the techie talk.  And I was thinking to myself, at last I found an author who thinks and talks about the computer stuff that I really really love.  It's all been put into Cory Doctorow's books.  So yeah, I'm reading the rest of them.

sapphoq reviews says:  Pirate Cinema is first-rate.  Although it says "Tor Teen Books" on the back, people other than teens will like it too.  People who know more about computers besides the "On" button.  People who are actively engaged in keeping the politicians from botching up the Internet.  People who are raving mad about the interference of giant corporations who want to impose draconian and punitive laws on what we do on the internet.  People who grew up in an era when we all made back up tapes of our music and homemade mix tapes of songs from various bands that we liked.  People who embrace free software.  People who shout things like "Information demands to be free" at the bureaucrats.  People who understand something about the hacker culture.  People who have been pirates or who dream about being pirates.  If you don't fall into any of those sorts of things, maybe you won't care for Pirate Cinema.  Maybe you will be the kind of person who writes whiny reviews on the book selling sites noting that the hackerish geeky stuff was oh so boring and unintelligible.  Or maybe a few of you will stick around and become un-brain dead like I did and get to know some of us and one day you will find yourself walking around singing about pirates and stuff.  Or heading off to a protest [I never did get used to calling a protest by the modern counterpart "action"] for some cause that you believe in.  You just never know.

Cory Doctorow, rock on.  Forget the haters who don't care about kids winding up in prison for downloading a few tunes.  The rest of us are here.  And delighted to have some books around that speak to our culture, our time, who we are.  Thanks for that.

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