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Doctorow to publishers: learn to share, dummies!

With all the hoopla surrounding the launch of the Kindle, Amazon’s portable e-book reader, it’s easy to forget that for some authors the digital revolution has already happened. First among them would be science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, who offers his novels and stories for free download through his website using a Creative Commons license.

In an interview with the alternative comics blog The Daily Cross Hatch, Doctorow explains how he got IDW Publishing, a major U.S. comics publisher that’s adapting some of Doctorow’s stories, to also agree to a Creative Commons license.

My agent said, ‘Creative Commons – you guys okay with that?’ expecting to get a ‘go away, hippie, and never darken our door again.’ Instead, they said, ‘[O]h yeah, we’re totally cool with it, but we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to sell that to comic book store owners, so how would you feel if we just did that with the trade, at the end of the run?’ And that sounded great. That was the entire thing. It’s like the world’s least interesting story, in that it was just kind of an agreement.

Doctorow adds that in his experience free downloads don’t displace physical sales, but actually encourage them. Plus, he says, sharing is the only way to foster culture.

[Copying and sharing] is as old as culture itself. In fact, when we say ‘culture,’ that’s more or less what we mean. ‘Art’ is the stuff that the artist makes and ‘culture’ is what we do with the stuff that the artist makes. It’s pretty radical to say ‘culture must stop.’ I think it’s pretty conservative to say that you can just go on making copies the way that you spritual [sic] ancestors did, forever. I would hate to be the guy who says, ‘[Y]ou guys are all jerks for loving my work too much, I hate you so much, please stop copying my stuff.’ That would be just a terrible outcome. Creative Commons works, if it’s unpopular, and it works ever more, if it’s popular.

While it may be a bit of a stretch to call free downloads “conservative” from a business perspective, Doctorow seems to have scored a victory for Creative Commons advocates by getting IDW to play along.

Related reading: Doctorow also discussed giving it away in this 2003 Q&Q story.