Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net. In near-future Britain, this is more illegal than ever. The punishment for being caught three times is to cut off your entire household from the internet for a year - no work, school, health or money benefits.
Trent thinks he is too clever for that to happen, but it does, and nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where slowly he learns the ways of staying alive on the streets. He joins artists and activists fighting a new bill that will jail too many, especially minors, at one stroke. Jem introduces him to the Jammie Dodgers, beautiful brilliant "26" to love and cemetery parties.
Things look bad. Parliament is in power of a few wealthy media conglomerates. But the powers-that-be haven’t entirely reckoned with the power of a gripping movie to change people’s minds ...
- Extrapolating current trends and creating plausible near futures from them. - Writing about technical problems in a clear and mostly accurate way. - Creating page turning stories.
He is terrible at: - Being nuanced. - Being credible about non-tech story elements. - Avoiding sounding preachy.
Typically, with Cory you fight your way through the terrible stuff and the good stuff makes for, if not great literature, a fun read. This book, is an exception. From page 1 his preachy-ness is off the charts. This is a book about copyright infringement and how bad the big bad content producers are. Our hero (Trent aka Cecil B DeVil), an under age runaway video remix artist is persecuted from the first chapter for downloading copyrighted material, for only the most innocent reason of "making art". He is "compelled" to do this, yet the only way his art manifests is in editing scenes from other people's material. Luckily, our runaway, after spending 1 whole night, on the streets of London, falls in with a whole troupe of colorful, witty, street smart, and intelligent other street people. They show him the ropes so he can eat gourmet food, get computers, and live in a cool abandoned pub all for free. Glad our hero doesn't starve. When he does encounter street people who don't fit into his techno-anarchist tribe, even if they have mental problems, they are harmless. Even the drug gangs are friendly. We never encounter real life issues that are endemic with runaways, untreated mental problems, drug abuse (these characters only use drugs responsibly), casual violence, or sexual predation. Oh did, I mention he finds a girlfriend that is smarter and more attractive than him, street wise & politically savvy, who comes from an upper class family that has no problem with their daughter sleeping with a homeless kid?
If only the big bad copyright laws and the evil American corporations that push them hadn't intruded on poor Cecil's lost boy utopia.
And this is real problem with this story. Copyright law in the age of the internet, is a very real, and very complicated problem. As usual, Cory does a good job at pointing out how some trends in the laws now will lead to obvious technical problems (and more obvious hacks to circumvent them). What doesn't come across is any discussion of the subtleties of the problem. Every bad thing about copyright is pointed out without any thought or discussion about the good things. All of the copyright infringers are motivated by pure artistic spirit and never use the infringed material for questionable motives.
To have a whole book devoted to this, and to never have a character infringe on copyright due to greed, or to misappropriate someones art to create a political message repugnant to it's creator is irresponsible. Nearly every person whose thought about this issue agrees that copyright law is being abused right now. That doesn't mean that there is no value to content creators (Cory's sainted "artists") in having responsible copyright protection and that viewpoint is never presented in any way. The sad thing is, Cory clearly understands this discussion and didn't have it in this novel because either he A) was too insecure in his arguments, B) didn't trust himself to write them well or C) didn't trust his readers to understand the nuance. In any case it is sad and not worthy of him.
Cory Doctorow knocks another one out of the park in Pirate Cinema. Here he mixes existing (and already frightening) laws in England punishing those who download copyrighted music or videos by cutting off the family's Internet access with some that haven't yet come to pass but certainly could. I hope this book becomes a wake up call — we all have to remember to stand up for what's right and not just complacently go along with new laws because the rich and powerful say so. Well done, Doctorow.
This is every bit as much a polemic as anything Ayn Rand ever wrote. The saving grace, though, is that Doctorow's characters are sympathetic people and Doctorow himself has an actual sense of humor.
While I don't agree with all of Cory Doctorow's positions, I do lean sympathetic to them. His personal hobbyhorse is the mess that is our current IP system. Here, he sets up a strawman of an entertainment industry with even more sweeping powers than it currently has, and then sets up his plucky protagonist to go tilt at the windmill he's made. There are speeches. A lot of speeches. I don't disagree with the content, but it does get a little wearisome.
But Trent is a remarkably charismatic character. Oh, he's an arrogant screw-up, in the way of teenage boys everywhere, but he does grow as a character and he does mean well. His supporting cast is equally likable. Their plotting is appropriately zany, not everything goes their way, and some of their hijinks are genuinely funny. The conclusion of the main plot is appropriately satisfying.
There are some additional rough bits. I got really tired of the heavy handed foreshadowing--we're repeatedly told that things are great, but that was just before it all went to shit. The thing is, I think something like three chapters end like this before it all actually goes to shit. Also, the way Doctorow wraps up Trent's relationship with 26 feels tacked on and completely inorganic--there was no reason to see it coming, and feels like it happens merely by authorial fiat because he wanted the book to end a certain way but didn't give any thought to getting it there until the last two pages.
But for all the flaws--I still liked it. The prose flows well enough and the characters are pleasant enough that I enjoyed the reading experience, even when I rolled my eyes a little. It's pretty deeply flawed, but nonetheless enjoyable.
I have to admit, I sometimes read books by Cory Doctorow and wonder why he is not in jail all the time.
That said, this book details yet another very good reason to consider going to jail – it’s a discussion of copyright and piracy, coming down (obviously) very much on the side of the user, rather than the big companies. I have lots of love for all the characters of this book, who are delightful and charming in their existence of modeling themselves after Oliver Twist (as possibly all British teen criminals must do?).
This is a thin veil over the issues and interests near and dear to his heart - freedom to access and use information, creativity not being limited by copyright law, and being aware of limiting legislation.
If it is a novel, it is a fantasy novel, not really near-future dystopia. In a dystopia, the characters would experience a real struggle, and life would suck a little bit. In Pirate Cinema, the main character "Cecil" downloads enough illegal stuff online that his family's internet access gets terminated. Oh, that's scary, but he runs away from it, to London, where he magically connects with a network of teens and younger 20's who already have a system for living classy despite being homeless. There isn't a lot of fear, stench, or consequences - Cecil never even goes to jail. He finds allies immediately and everywhere, to the point where the evil corporations never even seem that threatening.
I loved Little Brother, but this book feels watered down in comparison. Read it for the concepts, not the story.
I don’t really know how to start this review, because this is a very important topic for me. It should be an important topic for anyone who loves books. Although Pirate Cinema concerns not-so-exaggerated attempts to stop people from copying and remixing movies, much of the same rhetoric around copyright has been applied to books. Libraries pay insanely inflated prices for ebooks because publishers are freaked out that electronic files exist and can be shared. (And let’s not even get started on DRM.) Amazon is not just trying but succeeding in revolutionizing a lot of the publishing industry, particularly around self-publishing, and not in a way that is necessarily good for creators.
And that’s the fundamental lie that Cory Doctorow exposes in Pirate Cinema. The companies and lobbyists behind increasingly draconian copyright regimes always claim that copyright is necessary for creators to flourish. They paint a bleak picture of a world where piracy discourages people from creating stuff because they won’t get paid. I suppose they have a point—I have no clue how our civilization survived without art for all those thousands of years before we had copyright!
So the conflict in this book, and indeed in real life, is not between pirates and creators. It’s between corporations and people, with the former wanting control over created content and the latter wanting … well, culture. As he has done with other books, such as the seminal Little Brother, Doctorow sees a trend in our society that he doesn’t like. So he has extrapolated it—just a little, because most of what happens in this book has been or is happening in some form somewhere today. And he tries to show why he thinks the world should be different, and why it matters that we fight.
This is polemical, no doubt about it, and not always for the best. The bad guys are caricaturish, almost moustache-twirling in how naughty Doctorow depicts them. Even as someone who is very sympathetic to Doctorow’s cause, I have to wish that there had been a little more nuance here. While I love that Doctorow takes the time to explain parts of the UK parliamentary system to readers, it might have been nice if we also learned something about how copyright actually works.
Still, this is a compelling book, and not just on a philosophical level. The characters are fun. Trent is a mixed bag as a protagonist: at times he’s sympathetic, other times he’s not very likable—a very believable portrayal, in other words, of a teenage boy who is a little too clever for his own good. I appreciate, too, that Doctorow doesn’t make him too much of a genius at everything. For example, Trent freely admits he doesn’t know that much about computers—he knows enough to Google around for instructions and commands to run, and he is very good at video editing, but those are his limits.
The pacing is also great—good enough to almost make me forget the lumpy infodumpy parts of the book. Doctorow never really lets us get comfortable with a status quo. First Trent leaves home and spends some time wandering London before lucking into a friendship that opens a lot of doors for him (literally). When he loses that laptop with the finished cut of his Holy Grail of Scot Colford remixes, I was almost as heartbroken as he was. But that’s the point—Doctorow needs to establish that it’s not the product that matters to Trent so much as the love, the act of creating. Really, what Pirate Cinema boils down to is a strong argument in favour of a more distributed notion of creativity. This scares the monolithic corporations that have a lot of power right now, because they don’t know how to control it or make money off it.
Pirate Cinema also captures the senses of dread and defeatism that lurk beneath any massive campaign for public change. Trent and his friends, even the fiery 26, are often discouraged when things they try don’t seem to make a difference to the public. They are up against lobbyists who have almost inexhaustible resources. Doctorow just casually discusses some of the reasons politicians listen to these companies rather than their constituents—whether it’s the lavish weekend getaway or the fear of being expelled from one’s party, something usually convinces them. This dysfunctionality, and the sense that the people we elect aren’t actually representing our interests any more, is very concerning. And it’s not surprising that libertarians find a lot to like about Doctorow’s novels.
As a YA novel, this is pretty good. The love story between Trent and 26 is neither contrived nor overly romantic. I liked the ending. Although I agree with those who think it’s abrupt as an epilogue, the writing was on the wall much earlier in the story, and it’s a very realistic way for their story to conclude. But I think the best thing about Pirate Cinema as a YA novel is simply its ability to educate and get younger readers thinking about these issues in a political way. Even if one doesn’t agree with what Doctorow argues here, it opens the door for critical discussions.
Beyond that, it’s a fun story with good characters and a strong message. That the message threatens to overwhelm those other two aspects at times is par for the course with Doctorow. I hesitate to call it unsophisticated, because it deals with fairly complicated issues. Let’s go with straightforward. There isn’t much in the way of subtext here.
I’m biased, though. Like I said at the beginning, copyright and the way corporations appear eager to own our culture so that we may merely consume it really concerns me. It’s an issue I feel passionate about, so I enjoyed Doctorow sharing his own passion for this subject in a suitably fictional form.
Topical: A discussion about fair use and how it relates to art. How fanfiction, remixes, commentary, satire feeds into the culture that gave it life, and how the Internet speeds up the whole process. Also topical: How far can piracy really be classed as theft, is it worth prosecuting, and does protecting copyright give corporations too much power over a network that does not belong to them, and what about otherwise unavailable/very rare/abandoned media, etc.
These are all dense, complex discussions. Pirate Cinema, for my tastes, treats these issues very superficially. Sure, by painting a world where copyright laws and anti-piracy laws are draconian and media moguls have all the power, we get a nice worst case scenario and might step back and go ‘yeah, piracy really isn’t the end of the world, chill out, evil corporations,’ but Doctorow protests too much by playing that only too-big-to-care corporations are even remotely impacted by piracy. It’s one thing to posit that if you buy it, you can use it how you like, and this includes fair use like cutting and remixing. It’s another thing to essentially posit that Internet users have the right to download whatever they want for free and there’s something Robin Hoodish about it, etc. Not all media is created by large corporations and there are such things as content creators who do make income off of sales. “If I want a piece of entertainment, I should have it, right now, and for nothing,” is bound to come off a /little/ entitled.
This "if I want it, I got it" philosophy is also reflected in the scattered bits of book that don’t directly relate to digital piracy. Our hero lives in a hazy wish-fulfillment world where any homeless person can live pretty posh off of dumpsters and abandoned pubs, if they’re only clever (he’s ‘pirating’ discarded goods and properties, get it?). He gets the best weed and the best parties. Everyone thinks his remixes are just amazing. Anyone who doesn’t think they're pure art (and who isn’t representing an evil corporation) is quickly convinced otherwise. If our hero wants something, he gets it (with one epilogue exception, which I guess I won’t spoil) with, at most, some qualifications or some mild delays. Even the courtroom judge thinks our hero Trent is terribly precious, and this is precisely what drove me up the wall about Kvothe in Name of the Wind. Only Name of the Wind had some actual stakes.
And this is my ultimate problem with Pirate Cinema. I don’t mind fiction with a message. Most of the books I love have a message or several. But I think the story, and the message, would be a lot more effective if there was more of an actual story. It all begins promisingly enough with our hero getting his family cut off from the Internet due to his piracy and running away so he can practice his ~art~ without ~hurting anyone~. Sarcastic tildes aside, a story about Trent having to actually suffer more than an initial chapter or two would have given the thesis more heft. Seriously, “prospect of two weeks without Internet” should never make a list of “major obstacles protagonist must face.” And I'm saying that as someone who just went two weeks without Internet.
I'm a long term Cory Doctorow fan, having loved Makers, Little Brother, For the Win, and Eastern Standard Tribes.
Set in the near-term future, Pirate Cinema is essentially about the struggle against oppressive copyright laws.
In Pirate Cinema, like Little Brother, we have another young adult protagonist and his super-smart female love interest and their tribe, who become outraged at government and corporate interests and take action to improve the world.
As in other Doctorow novels, we get great, really rich settings. This one takes place in London's street/squatter scene. It's hard to imagine that Doctorow could write this stuff without having lived it himself. I'd love to spend six weeks with Doctorow and see what his life is really like. I know some of the other reviewers point out that the setting isn't realistic: that we don't see any of the bad effects of drug use, living on the street, the mental health problems. That's true, but then I think that would be a distraction from the main point of the book.
In Pirate Cinema, the technology, morals, and activism take place front and center, as they do in most Doctorow novels. This is about intellectual property rights, their effect on creativity, trusted computing, DRM, and the rights of corporations versus people. In his earlier books, Cory's prose sometimes read like an academic paper when he's talking about the serious stuff. This is still here, as other reviewers have mentioned, but I think Cory has done a better job of blending it in. And I really don't mind the lectures: they're fun and educational, even for someone relatively conversant in the space.
I don't want to give too much away, but I laughed out loud and had to immediately text a few friends when I get to the scene on panhandling A/B testing. If you know what A/B testing is, I promise this scene will crack you up.
In short, if you liked Little Brother, Makers, or For the Win, you'll love Pirate Cinema too. If you haven't tried any of Doctorow's fiction, I highly recommend it. He writes about important issues in a fun and entertaining way. You can read for the fun or the lessons or both.
Note to parents: my kids are still in their single-digit ages, but when they hit their teens I hope to feed them a steady diet of Doctorow novels, including Pirate Cinema. The language, street living, and drugs might be slightly edgy, but the lessons about corporate interests and activism are right on.
Trent McCauley is a teen addicted to illegal downloading and splicing cinema to create ‘remixes’ of his favourite actors’ performances into a single short film send-up. However, the government doesn’t get the humour, and suspend his access to the internet which not only causes Trent grief but also proves disastrous for his family.
Author Cory Doctorow instils the classic David verses Goliath battle of the underdog against ‘the man’ as Trent leads the charge from a squat in London against the Government to change law and have his creations recognised as art in their own right.
Had PIRATE CINEMA been aimed at adult rather than YA, this would’ve truly been a dark and at times violent, drug riddled romp into the teeming underbelly of London’s pirate film movement yet the YA branding and tone limited this impact providing only a glimpse of what could’ve been.
On its merits, PIRATE CINEMA works well as a YA but does leave those not accustomed to YA wanting more. The story itself is entertaining but did get a little bogged down by dialogue and scenes that didn’t really add much to the overall plight. Despite this, I still liked PIRATE CINEMA, more for what it could’ve been (again I’m not a huge reader of YA) rather than the ‘lighter’, more conservative approach taken for its intended audience.
I really dig Cory Doctorow. He is fighting the good fight on behalf of us all. He is one of the few individuals in the world who has the clout to appear in mainstream media in order to talk about copyright issues, a task which would otherwise be left completely in the hands of bigcorp mouthpieces. This is why I support his work in every way possible and also why I think this book is a must read if you care about these issues (and if you don't, you must be living under a rock).
However, his writing leaves quite a bit to be desired, as far as novels go anyways, as his articles are usually quite lucid and to the point. But perhaps that is part of the problem - in fiction, you need more subtlety, something that is sorely lacking in this overview of what society would be like if big media corporations got their way on copyright issues. Now, admittedly, this is partly due to the fact that the narrator is the protagonist itself, a British teenager called Trent who ends up on the wrong side of an insane copyright law, which gets his family disconnected from the internet with incredibly dire consequences. His father loses his telecommuting job, mom can no longer apply for social programs from home and his brilliant sister is unable to do research for school properly and is propelled on a path of mediocrity. Trent leaves home out of shame and begins squatting in London, where he meets a couple of friends who share his view. Maybe they can do something about this whole mess...
Obviously, from his standpoint the issue is completely black and white - the other side (the copyright enforcers and the companies who buy them) are complete bad guys with no redeemable features whatsoever. And while I kind of agree with that world view myself, perhaps a slightly harder effort put into explaining or at least presenting the other side of the issue would be of a benefit to the reader, unless your entire goal is to preach to the choir. And at times it all does sound kind of preachy.
There are other minor annoying things, like the fact that all the women in Pirate Cinema are completely brilliant and super cool to boot, while most of the guys are complete bunglers. Well, maybe that's how it is in the real world after all.
Doctorow, on the other hand, excels in other things. I think his depiction of society under such laws is not too far off, if not darn right spot on. Also, obviously he is an internet age adept and his descriptions of technical issues are credible and exact as far as those that already exist are concerned and plausible for made-up stuff.
Now if he could just add some nuance and depth both to his characters and his issues, we'd have a voice of the internet generation on our hands, folks.
I'm a little on the fence about Pirate Cinema. On one hand, it's an entertaining, solid read with some fun (if not terribly complex) characters and a political stance on copyright I agree with completely. On the other, there are moments where the novel veneer grows a bit thin and you can almost see the characters turning to the reader to deliver their Important Message.
The number of lengthy and eloquent speeches about copyright spike near the end, and the big media corporations have no voice or characterization other than that of irreedeemable stupidity and evil. As pointed out in another review, all the characters are artists, they live in a bohemian artist utopia (despite the word "dystopia" frequently used to describe this book, I found it to be anything but; the protagonists live rent-free and bill-free in a big house where they eat gourmet food and make art all day), and there are never any real serious stakes -- at least, not for the actual characters, who never get in serious trouble even as the world around them is ostensibly collapsing.
Criticisms aside, though, there was plenty I liked. The world of the Jammie Dodgers, though neither dsytopic nor particularly realistic to my mind, is still an entertaining one. It's like Swiss Family Robinson for urban squatters. The main character is well-realized, and the rogues' gallery around him is a fun bunch, even if they are a political hive mind. Doctorow is clearly passionate about the subject of copyright and the meaning of art, and despite the occasional preachiness, that passion comes through and informs the entire work. Doctorow makes some terrific points about how art evolves and changes meaning over time, and makes a great case for copyright reform.
Four stars because the merits outweigh the flaws, and I found it well worth my time.
I liken Pirate Cinema to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: Atlas was my favorite book during my childhood because Rand crafted an interesting story whose characters I enjoyed following, however I did not buy into her philosophy and in fact found that the clunky repetition hampered an otherwise interesting tale.
Pirate Cinema is the same: a good story (albeit quite unbelievable - man, I want to be a teen who runs away and somehow ends up in a squat without fear of being evicted, surrounded by other homeless yet awesome friends, eating duck fat fries!) Beyond that, however, the book is nothing but a platform for Doctorow to beat the reader over the head about the ills of DRM. Now, I definitely think his thesis statement has merit - particularly in the specific example he uses to craft the book's plot. But I find, overall, the author's desire to get everyone to believe DRM and copyright is pure evil did the book a disservice.
I also take issue with the book because I got it through the Humble Book Bundle. I wish Doctorow had put one of his more renowned titles into this bundle rather that slyly putting in his propaganda. Also: I think the fat Doctorow copyrighted his book a bit hypocritical. Well, more than a bit, but now I'm just being flippant.
Bottom line: Doctorow can write, but his story, while fun, is entirely unbelievable for the sake of hammering the reader about the head with his agenda.
Trent McCauley is a talented teenager: his main hobby, more an obsession really, is creating movie clips by downloading, remixing and reassembling footage of his favorite actor. Problem is, those movies tend to be copyrighted, which means Trent’s innocuous pastime involves breaking the law on an ongoing basis. All of this goes well, until it suddenly doesn’t: there’s a knock on the door, and a policeman informs the McCauley family that, because of repeated copyright infringements, their internet access is being terminated for a year, effective immediately.
Now, because of Trent’s harmless hobby, his father can’t do his telecommuting job anymore, his sister can’t do research for her school work, and his mother can’t sign on to get her health benefits. Inadvertently, he’s ruined his family’s lives. Unable to deal with the shame (and the lack of internet access), Trent packs up and leaves his home town of Bradford for London, where he learns to live on the street and gets involved with various artists, anarchists, and activists. Meanwhile, Parliament is busy trying to impose even more far-reaching copyright laws.
This is just the latest in the chain of Doctorow's FOSS-proselytizing works, with a pinch of teenage angst and a tick-all-the-checkboxes attitude to writing fiction.
I only read this book because I had it from the Humble Ebook Bundle and needed something to read on the tube. That said, it's repetitive, goes into preaching mode way too often and overall is highly (and I mean HIGHLY) predictable. No twist, no real character development (or characterization at all for that matter), and sitcom-like caricature moulds of people make for a weak book, no matter how hard you're trying to save the world.
Cory Doctorow is almost as well known for his blog and internet activism as he is for his speculative fiction. So it’s no surprise that he combines the two in his latest release for youth audiences, Pirate Cinema.
Sixteen-year-old Trent McCauley loves creating illegal films by editing together clips from other people’s work. Unfortunately for him, in his near-future Great Britain the penalties for illegal downloading are harsh. When his entire family is cut off from the net (and therefore their access to jobs, social welfare programs, and school), Trent runs away to London. Needless to say, he’s got a lot of growing up to do, and a lot of thinking about how the world works and how he wants to change it.
Very near future I may not be as much of an internet activist as Doctorow is, and I’m not up to date on current UK internet laws, but there’s a lot in this book that feels eerily close to laws that either have already been passed or have been proposed in the US. It was actually hard for me to feel the ‘near future’ dystopia of Pirate Cinema. Doctorow has done a simply superb job anchoring his book in current reality, so much so that it almost reads as contemporary fiction. This gives Pirate Cinema a lot of power, because unlike several popular teen dystopian novels, Trent and his world are very easy to relate to. This takes an immense amount of skill, and is the biggest testament to Doctorow’s writerly chops in this book.
Screw the man! Save the empire! In the mass of life-and-death teen dystopian novels crowding our shelves today, it was really nice to find a throwback style story of a group of teens doing teenage things to fight back against the system. Trent and his buddies don’t have to kill anyone or beat people up, and their lives are never in danger. Don’t get me wrong, they always have something to lose, but they face landing in jail rather than death. They fight back using some very creative civil disobedience, and really do use the system against itself instead of moving outside of the system to utterly destroy it. While Trent does leave his parents’ house, it’s because he feels deep guilt over what has befallen them because of his actions. They didn’t kick him out, and they aren’t going to disown him if he ever decides to go back. The adults that are present in Pirate Cinema tend to be smart and supportive, giving excellent advice and generally not being people Trent and his friends need to hide from.
Warning: soapbox! So, Doctorow has an agenda in this book, and it’s hard to miss even when just reading the title. There is a lot of exposé where a character is explaining how the various laws and technology to enforce those laws work to Trent. There were several places in the book where I just sighed and thought, “Here we go again,” because Doctorow really does hit you over the head with a clue-by-four to pound in his message. Granted, I’m more educated about internet laws than the average person, but the sheer amount of soapboxing in this book pushed me out of the story overall. Which is a shame, because Pirate Cinema is a good story. However, I can see that, for Doctorow, the story is secondary to the message.
Why you should read this book? Pirate Cinema is a fun teen near-future dystopian, and when was the last time you heard that? The message is clear, and it is an important one not just for teens but for all of us. Doctorow gives us a very bleak picture of what can happen when the financial well-being of a few gets in the way of the good of all. If you’re not familiar with internet and copyright laws, no matter where you live, this is an excellent and entertaining way to educate yourself. Best of all, I don’t have to give out any ‘content may not be suitable’ warnings. This is a solid teen fiction appropriate for that target audience (twelve or thirteen and up).
So what exactly is happening here? I may be misunderstanding something. This doesn't make much sense right now.
The problem with his point of view is of course that it is completely one-sided. There are actually good reasons why copyright would protect authors who don't wish to opt out from such protection against someone else changing their works, most of them not of a financial nature. None of them are even mentioned anywhere, which makes "Pirate Cinema" less convincing as a work discussing copyright issues.
One may of course assert a right for everyone to turn famous movie stars into someone doing a porno movie by some clever use of digital editing tools, as Doctorow does right from the beginning. I would disagree. In my opinion, it is and should be for the author of the original work to decide if he wants to allow derivative works at all, and under which conditions.
But while I disagree with Doctorow's radical views about copyright, I still liked this as a work of fiction. I just happen to read "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maass. Maass recommends authors to have a message and a cause they are writing for. Doctorow certainly has one.
One quibble from the point of view of law, which is one of the subplots. While a 16 year old with no fixed income or any assets might be "judgment proof" in the sense that there won't be much to collect, that might change rapidly with someone with the talent and obsessive creation work ethic of this particular novel hero. So it does actually matter that the judge lets him off with a very small amount of damages.
I am not sure if this is not slightly exaggerated for the purpose of generating business. But I think this way of packaging and selling books very remarkable. It has generated over $500.000 in revenue and distributed these books to over 40,000 readers in a couple of days.
That's quite impressive. Doctorow is well on his way to become one of the greedy fat cats his novel is attacking himself.
Update: Doctorow points out in a tweet that this "all rights reserved" is "his publisher's version", and that he provides a Creative Commons licensed version at his website:
Description: Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net. In the dystopian near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever; the punishment for being caught three times is that your entire household’s access to the internet is cut off for a year, with no appeal.
Trent's too clever for that too happen. Except it does, and it nearly destroys his family. Shamed and shattered, Trent runs away to London, where he slowly he learns the ways of staying alive on the streets. This brings him in touch with a demimonde of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new bill that will criminalize even more harmless internet creativity, making felons of millions of British citizens at a stroke.
Things look bad. Parliament is in power of a few wealthy media conglomerates. But the powers-that-be haven’t entirely reckoned with the power of a gripping movie to change people’s minds….
I wanted something completely different as palate cleanser but cannot ever see me getting to this...
This was the preachiest book I've read in a long time, and really took away from a decent story. There was no subtlety whatsoever in any of the impassioned speeches the main characters make about copyright policies
I like Doctorow, and agree with some of his philosophical and political beliefs about technology, capitalism, and the world in general.
Perhaps it's because I already know and agree with his stances that this book seems like little more than an excuse to thinly wrap a plot around political beliefs and shove them down the throat of the reader. A bit more nuance and a bit less preachiness would have made this story a lot better. Not everything has to be explicitly stated in a character's voice for the reader to understand how they should feel about governments, content companies, and hackers.
And, no matter how much he tries to glorify people eating shit out of dumpsters, there's no way to make eating shit out of dumpsters sound appetizing.
Sheesh, I meant to write a review of this ages ago and completely forgot....OK, here goes.
Pirate Cinema is a coming-of-age story within a not-too-distant-future dystopia in which corporations have succeeded in controlling technology and the media. Trent McCauley is a young teen who is obsessed with creating his own films. He uses illegal content scoured from various pirate sites to patch together his own little films. When the law catches up with him, he and his family are banned from the internet for a year. Trapped in a well of guilt and self-disgust, Trent runs away to London, where he discovers an entire society of happy homeless people who live via dumpster diving, begging, and sleeping in abandoned houses. He cannot shake his need for a creative outlet and begins making films again, precipitating an international battle against the Big Bad Media Industry.
As might have been apparent in my summary, I thought the story was interesting, the protagonist was sympathetic, but that the plot was a vehicle for a very dogmatic political perspective. And because this book is mainly a political statement, the remainder of the review is going to be my analysis and response. If you just want a good story, skip the remainder of my review and take a look at the book. Otherwise, be prepared for quite a bit of criticism of what I see as Doctorow's attitude of entitlement.
First of all, I had some issues with the whole "happy homelessness" thing. Doctorow presents a world where all of the homeless are generally kind and giving. "Soft" drugs are merely looseners, food is always readily available via dumpster diving, and housing in condemned houses is safe and easy to find. Homeless people are merely recycling food that would otherwise go to waste, using housing that an uptight and corrupt government has condemned, and...oh, of course,...begging money off people for survival. Not only do I think this is a totally unrealistically rosy portray of life on the streets, but this general attitude bothered me: a large percentage of this utopian homeless society, including Trent and his friends, would be perfectly capable of holding down jobs. Instead, they live off the kindness of strangers and charity that could go to people who are truly in need. This again shows the attitude of entitlement: apparently, Trent and his friends "deserve" all of the charity they receive because they don't want to work for it. Not only do I find that unsympathetic, but I think it also callously disregards the very real crisis of homelessness and life on the streets. It isn't a fun utopia and resources aren't just lying around waiting to be picked up. Many people are mentally ill and very often victims of violence and abuse. It does a massive disservice to the issue to try to portray homelessness as an enjoyable adventure.
This general attitude of entitlement is seen in the other political viewpoints as well. The main drive of the book is a dogmatic propagandist push regarding digital rights management (DRM). Doctorow is totally against DRM and believes that people should have access to content to create art for arts sake. I'm not exactly thrilled about DRM--I'm a Linux user, the only non-open-source programs I have (other than Adobe flash) are on my phone, and I pay extra for non-DRM'd media--but I totally believe that people should be allowed to own the rights to the content that they create. I try to make use of all free resources that are available--I'm a big library user--but I do my absolute best to obtain all content legally and fairly because I believe that people who create content own the right to determine how it is distributed. Doctorow disagrees, and doesn't even see the need to defend his position until about two-thirds through the book.
Let's take the case of Trent. Doctorow tries to claim that for his creative output, Trent "needs" to steal films illegally and reconstruct them, and that somehow once they have been released to the world, content creators should have no rights over the content that they have created. I don't agree. Trent's first project is taking the works of a generally G-movie actor and remixing them to display the actor losing his virginity on-screen. Wow, what a sympathetic project...does the actor own any rights over his own form? Doctorow tries to argue that Trent "needs" the clips and that he shouldn't need to pay for them...but why can't he create his own content or use old films in the public domain? The real answer is that Trent doesn't want to and it isn't convenient. But we don't automatically have rights to something just because we want it.
Doctorow makes everything into a straw argument by asserting that said actor would be fine with the way his work is slashed and remixed, but how does that excuse it in the general case? Doctorow lives what he preaches--he releases his stuff online--but it is significantly easier to profit this way from writing than visual art because visual art is just so much easier--and more tempting-- to steal. I think artists deserve the right to decide how their artwork is used. Some people who participate in content creation--for example, artists on the website DeviantArt--make their livelihoods by selling their artwork. Others release their work under licenses such as Creative Commons that allow reuse, but prohibit obscene or hate-oriented work. Doctorow asserts that people don't own any rights to the content that they create. This sense of entitlement infuriates me.
First, I dispute that "art for art's sake" has always been free. Let's say that we accept that mixing together clips of other peoples' work is Art (capital A) rather than plagiarism. Even so, throughout the ages, artists have had to pay for their materials. You can't go into a craft store and pick up a canvas or ceramic clay and tell the storekeeper that you "deserve" to have the materials for free because you are creating "Art." Why should film clips be any different? Doctorow tries to claim that art is somehow special and that a consumerist perspective on art is somehow new. Uh, no...art has never been free or a higher calling. Most of the Renaissance art was created for and paid for by patrons who had significant control over the content created. In Doctorow's world, everyone but the Big Bad Corporate Suits wants to release the content. But creating content costs money and effort, and I think the content creators should be able to profit off of the work that they create.
I enjoyed this book--I thought the story was enjoyable and the characters were sympathetic. However, I think Doctorow's political perspective is both naive and entitled, and I find books which present only one side of a complex issue vastly irritating. The entire time I read it, I had the feeling I was being repeatedly bonked on the head by Doctorow's Morality Hammer:
I do think Doctorow brings up a lot of interesting questions that deserve further thought. Are "fan videos" or transformations of film clips art, and are they on the same calibre of creativity as works that are fully original? At what point does a work enter the public domain so that its original creators lose rights to it? In an era where gaining access to illegal content is trivial, how can we ensure that content creators are compensated for their work? All questions worth considering, and Pirate Cinema is a great vehicle for opening up the conversation for these and other questions.
I received this book via the Goodreads First Reads program.
"If it's just theft, then why do they need to get their laws passed in the dead of the night, without debate or discussion?" - 26 in Pirate Cinema
There's something more than a little bit After School Special-ish about Pirate Cinema, I'm afraid. Well, let's say half After-School Special and half Steal This Book. With maybe a little of some sunny Oliver!-ish can-do musical extravaganza thrown in here and there. Which is to say that in a lot of ways, the didactic agenda of this novel gets noticeably in the way of the story a little too often to make this a genuinely enjoyable read. And however praiseworthy that agenda may be, a novel-length parable illustrating its importance is a bit much.
But! Fear not, for the bits where we don't feel the author sitting next to us and preaching at us (and let me just get it out there right now: I sing an enthusiastic tenor in every performance of the choir to whom Cory Doctorow is preaching) are pretty good, though in some ways that almost makes it worse -- they're good enough to just make the reader ache for an edit of this book with maybe at least some of the finger-wagging cut out or cut down.
I wonder how Doctorow, champion of remix culture, culture jamming, sharing, and all the other ideas that are illustrated in this book, would feel about such an edit, though? On the one hand, his work would be getting watered down, stripped of a lot of its political message and used as mere entertainment, and thus maybe undermining that message; on the other, well, it would be a remix like any other. Another fan might choose to edit out all of the teenage romance and cheerful "we can do it" remodeling/repurposing/squat claiming stuff and just leave the expounding dialogues in place to educate everyone about the dangers of copyright maximalism and the move to privatize free expression and bring all media under corporate control.
Actually, as I consider it, I would probably enjoy reading either of those edits, at least more than I enjoyed reading this novel.
That's not to say it's a horrible novel; it's not. Doctorow has considerable narrative skill and has populated his story with a host of very charming characters, young punks all, lovable scamps with talent and creativity and technical know-how (and, in more than a few cases, an impressive knowledge of property law, both intellectual and real). One would have to have a heart of stone not to root for Trent and his girlfriend 26*, Jem and Rabid Dog, Cora and Aziz and all the rest**. Especially since their foes are so faceless, so nameless as to not even be human at all: Paramount, Universal, Disney-Marvel, Virgin -- you get the idea.
Trent and co. live in an absolute copyright dystopia that takes things even further than that depicted in my good friend Paul Laroquod's Swap Thing videos. If you want to see a movie on the big screen, you not only have to fork out the cash for a ticket, but also subject yourself to metal detectors, searches, and temporary confiscation of any personal electronics you've been dumb enough to bring. Download too many illegal files off the internet and you can have your entire family's access cut off for a whole year. And all that's even before yet another piece of draconian legislation gets passed that imposes, among other things, mandatory minimum jail sentences for being caught in possession of any music, photos, films or other files you can't prove you obtained 100% legally.
Enter our hero, Trent, a teenaged kid who happens to be a very talented video editor, and to be, as teenagers are, utterly disinclined to wait until he's done with school and has been hired and vetted by a corporate overlord to sanction/pay for/control his exercise of his talents, anymore than a kid who was good at a sport would wait for a professional league to discover him before playing that sport. Of course, as we've established, Trent does not live in a world that acknowledges or respects this equivalency; it is as if a promising young basketball player got busted and banned for enjoying some pick-up games on the playground, sharing his ball and the court and his knowledge of the rules and the history of the sport with other kids freely being suddenly banned from ever touching any ball or court or uniform, perhaps even any spectator's seat at a game, ever again.
I know, ridiculous, right? What's to stop such a kid from, say, stealing a ball from a sporting goods store and shooting some hoops on a deserted playground in the dead of night? Maybe even teaming up with other people who got busted and starting a secret club where they head off to a secret cobbled-together court somewhere to indulge their shared passion.***
That's pretty much what Trent does. When a third copyright offense, logged as he finishes his latest mash-up masterpiece on his laptop at his parents' house, triggers the harshest penalty -- his entire household, parents and sister and all, being banned from the internet for an entire year -- Trent runs away and goes rogue, joining up with a bunch of other similarly banned/punished people to continue doing what they love outside of/under mainstream society, hacking hardware to circumvent the latest crufted-on copyright protection cripples, remixing films and books and music into their own weird new creations, throwing parties in which their artwork is freely shared and enjoyed by anyone cool enough and smart enough to be willing to put in the time to find out where to go and how to do it.
Ahh, hackers. Ahh, culture jammers. How are they not lovable? Romantic? Quixotic? Charming? Plucky? And yet also, somehow boring. They always get along. They always make things happen. Hell, even the parents and other adults like and encourage them, even 26's parents, who tell Trent it's just fine that he sleeps over in their 17-year-old-daughter's bedroom. With her. Even if they don't sleep. Wink wink. Really?
After a while, even the important jeopardy -- the big bad so big and so bad and so important that Doctorow couldn't allow even the ghost of any other kind of conflict so that even the neighborhood drug dealers where Trent squats are nice and friendly and helpful -- feels unreal and inchoate. The corporate sharks are swimming out there in the deep water, watchful and hungry, but our carefree happy little heroes stick to the shallows and frolick away, and just occasionally chuck some chum out to sea out of sheer exuberance.
Don't get me wrong; I had fun reading this at times. But I could never just immerse myself in the story, between the preaching and the excessive benevolence of the book's universe. In the end, I found that for all my love of Doctorow and what he does, I didn't ever feel like I was this book's audience.
But I'm not sure who is.
*Yeah, that's really her name. Sometimes people call her Twenty for short.
**Not that they need much rooting for.
***You sports fans should all take a moment and contemplate with gratitude the fact that, as dickheaded as the NBA, NFL, FIFA, etc. can be, they haven't to date tried to get play not under their aegis banned by law.
There's a great story in there. Not just a good one, a great one--so I want to give this book more stars, I really do, but I feel like someone has to say this: Cory Doctorow needs a firmer hand when it comes to editing. I expect editors must rather be afraid of him, assuming they'll be charged with censorship, but I hope someone eventually makes a stab at this because it would make a real difference for him--and his books.
Pirate Cinema takes a page from the same book as Little Brother by following the adventures of young hackers and renegades trying to challenge the oppressive authority of the state (in this case London's copyright laws and the big shot movie and music production people who drive their creation and enforcement). Trent, who later styles himself Cecil B. DeVil, runs away from home when his forays into remixing movie clips end up costing his family their Internet access. Luckily, he runs into some other savvy types on the streets of London who help him survive and inspire him with the confidence to go bigger with his mashup movie dreams than he could have ever expected. Soon he finds himself under the glare of the authorities and heavy hitters, but also has a real chance to get unimaginable fame. The biggest distinction to me from LB was that Little Brother read like a cautionary tale and this is like a tech-age fairy tale dedicated to the remix, mashup, and splice hacker artists and torrenters of the world.
There's some real drama, adventure--and serious meaty issues at play here, but Doctorow's storytelling is so entirely unreined-in that the pacing is not very good. You keep losing momentum and getting caught in side episodes. He needs someone like Trent to come in and do his work--pulling out the most poignant and powerful pieces and bringing them forward to tie them together. Also, something that I feel like someone has to say...because of the rambling, due to the lack of attention to those other things, I feel like Doctorow's novels are more and more feeling like a slightly novelized version of propaganda brochures for the hacker movement more than anything else. I can't even tell you how many long impassioned diatribes/arguments there are about creativity and the hazards of overzealous copyright enforcement---literally full-on speeches, as if Doctorow was trying to help his readers cram for a visit to their local congressman or get ready for a rally. He makes some good points, but I feel like it's incredibly heavy-handed and unfair to his readers who would also like a good story. It's there, but you have to unpack it from rhetoric first. I respect the man a lot, but I think he's becoming more of a politician than a writer. This might be a good thing for the world, but not as good of a development for his books. His true believers will continue to read, but that's really preaching to the choir. If he wants to really win converts, he's going to need to work on his storytelling, not just his rebuttals.
In the place of that here, I felt like he used cheap tactics to gloss over the flaws and try to keep his readers lured in to the premise. This is when the fairy tale comes in. Doctorow tells them what they want to hear: the pixie dust magical thinking version of what happens when a kid leaves everything behind with no plan but the right kind of hacker mentality. Trent and his gang manage to find a fantastic place to squat in (which they manage to even get sort of sanctioned) and have fantastic, epic feasts they scavenge from the local gourmet markets and food stands whenever they're not hanging out with their computers smoking pot. True, the food comes from dumpsters, but the way it's explained this is explained away almost to nothing. Most of the food is just short of pristine. Everything goes their way. Trent gets help from trustworthy folk almost immediately after becoming homeless, he gets a hot brilliant girlfriend with cool and understanding parents, everyone is safe. Everyone is well fed--better than the average person, even--as Trent discovers when he visits home. Everyone can get drugs easily whenever they want with no consequences and without having it ever interfere with their work/mission. Even though they have major cleanup to do at the squat, they eventually turn it into a pretty sweet pad, stolen electricity and all, and they find ways to finesse panhandling so it's lucrative enough to earn them so much extra that they can pass the overflow along to homeless people who are actually doing poorly. If that isn't enough, if they want to do all that and still get into a fantastic college, which is totally optional--if they want to, it's no biggie. Numerous times Trent literally strolls around his squat lost in an almost drunken glow about how great he has it...as a homeless teenager in London. I get that Doctorow wants to get the idea out there that there are a lot of different ways to live, that it's entirely possible for people to live off the grid, but I'll admit that it doesn't sit entirely comfortably with me to see teenage homelessness so glamorized--or at least idealized--to such an extent. And even though Trent does eventually feel guilt and obligation to his family, and reconnects with them things are going so well for him in his new life, I feel like it doesn't even feel entirely credible. Why would it? Adults are all enemies. His old life only kept him back. One thing you have to give Doctorow, though...he never pretends that he's about making anyone feel comfortable.
Welcome in near future London, the city ridden with CCTVs and obnoxious copyright protection laws, where you can get your internet access revoked because of downloading of movies. Young hero Trent likes to create hommages from the movies by Scot Colford, his "beloved" actor, and through this he gets his family's internet access banned,thus ruining the future of the whole family. Feeling shamed, he runs to London, where his new career as a clever beggar, a squatter, an alternative filmmaker, and a political guerrilla activist begins. Pirate Cinema is really similar as older Doctorow's book, Little Brother. This time main focus is shifted to the copyright laws, benefits of shared knowledge and unchained creativity, as this is a Doctorow's common battling ground (see his site for pick all of his books for free, under Creative Commons licence. Picked this book through a Humble Bundle with 7 other books for the price you want to pay. Really interesting concept. Big fan of this.) Pirate Cinema is another spin of the runaway kid story, which hero desperately tries to find its place in the world. I am bit troubled about depicting life of squatter as walk through rose garden, where everyone are friends and everything is peachy (at least for most of the times). I hope that there will be no high increase in runaway teens to London after this book ;). The start of the book is really strong, Trent’s arrival to London is very touching and persuading, but the story is getting more and more bleaky, preachy as Cory Doctorow tries his best to swing the reader to his own position about copyright and right to share. I am bit wary about this problematic, I can see pro and cons, not strict member of any side, but in some parts of the story, the open knowledge, sharing everything propaganda made me crazy. Cory maybe lessen on technological geeky stuff a bit, only to sink more into law and Free Internet stuff. Its a pity that the characters are undevelopment for most of the cases, it would be better to skip some tedious babbling parts for more work with the characters. Only Jam character show some promises in the beginning, but he turns as neglected persona later. As I mentioned Pirate Cinema mimics The Little Brother story building to the last bits, so there is nothing groundbreaking or original. Around 70 to 80% of the book (yeah, I got too used to reading on reader to mention page numbers anymore ;)) it was really painful to read as nothing interesting was happening and flames of righteous propaganda engulfed the book, but the finale somehow cleared the air and brought everything nicely to home. I enjoyed Pirate Cinema most of the time, but I would recommend this book more cautiously than the earlier mentioned Little Brother novel, which I am a big fan. And beware, it is Young Adult genre, so expect a lot of snogging (learned some new useful word, as Cory did new proper Great Britain English during his current stay in London ;).)
For a novel that is on it's surface about a teenage boy obsessed with making video mashups of clips starring a fictional movie star, it spends most of it's time on other things. Many other things. Because life isn't all about one thing, even when you are obsessed.
While checking to see who the fictional movie star was named after--because I just knew it had to be someone Cory Doctorow thought was worth idolizing--I accidentally found a review that said just what I wanted to say about this book, although I was coming no where close in my attempts above.
"Leave it to Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and technology activist-extraordinaire, to weave a story that successfully blends coming-of-age woes, homelessness, national politics, copyright law, cooking, gadgetry, love, overcoming homophobia, civil disobedience, film-making, mashups, public speaking, the judicial system, beer and coffee brewing, cryptography, and oh so, so much more into a wonderfully geeky, heart-wrenching, page-turning bang-up novel that people of all ages should read. This book is full of such big, exquisite ideas to learn about that you’ll be Googling your fingers off through the entire story and I mean that in the best way possible. " --From http://www.librarypoint.org/pirate_ci...
I didn't find any direct reporting on the connection, but the most famous real life Scot Colford I found describes himself on twitter as "Web Services Manager, Boston Public Library -- technical evangelist | independent film partisan | musical theatre cognoscente" which seems like just the kind of person that might become a fictional namesake....that makes me happy.
And what I found myself thinking about as I read the book wasn't about mashing up videos. Because I rarely watch anything on youtube. I'm almost exclusively a print-based consumer, without patience for even the briefest of videos to get to their points and reveal their messages. But laws and punishments about copyright infringement are in a big barrel of monkeys that includes big-business and international laws and makes my head swim in frustration and disappointment. The issues at stake aren't well explained to the people the laws are affecting and the broader the laws, the scarier the potential consequences.
To me, this book was almost entirely about Trent's parents and sister back in Northern England without Internet access for a year. And then it immediately became about every single customer I interact with at the public library who relies on the library for their Internet access. And the implications and ramifications of that are huge as well.
Off to get lost in thought about a few of the MANY things Cory Doctorow has me thinking about today....
Doctorow is known for using his books as a soapbox for causes he believes in; Pirate Cinema is no different. However, be they soapboxes, they are always fun and they are generally causes that I agree with. Pirate Cinema deals with the very real threats to our internet freedoms from the big entertainment conglomerates. We have seen it this past year in bills such as SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. Trent, the main character, is a teenager that loves to download old movies and edit and combine them into interesting mashups. Because of a draconian law, his entire family loses their access to the internet because of his illegal downloading; his father's job depends on the access, his mother's health benefits depend on this access, and his sister's school work depends on this access. With his family in ruins because of him, Trent runs away to London and in typical Doctorow fashion falls into a youth led rebellion against corporate greed; the quest begins and rollicking fun ensues. There are always interesting things to learn in a Doctorow novel and this doesn't disappoint; from "scientific panhandling", to squatting, to dumpster diving, and more practically, encryption and coffee making.
(soapbox)There are real dangers to our privacy and freedoms in the internet age and most people go about their lives totally oblivious to them; in fact, most do not really understand how integral the internet has become to living today. Take away free and unencumbered access and you will see a major impact on your lives. Going beyond the question of what is creativity and who owns it; the entertainment conglomerates want to take away fair use and flip the basis of justice from innocent until proven guilty to guilty and good luck in proving innocence. The net came together this year to bring these dangers to the forefront and help defeat SOPA and PIPA. As citizens of the net we must spread the word of these dangers and fight for our rights.The entertainment business models are antiquated in the digital age and we need to be ever vigilant against their efforts to keep us chained to those models.(/soapbox)
Doctorow practices what he preaches. As always, Doctorow makes his books available in DRM free formats and also free to download and distribute under a Creative Commons license. He reasonably asks that if you enjoy these books you buy a copy or donate a copy to a school or library. He provides helpful links for this on his website. So read and if you enjoy, pay it forward.
This is, simply put, a cracking good book. Even better, it's good on multiple levels. I really have to look at it in two parts: as a piece of literature, and as a manifesto of sorts, or at the very least expressive of a certain ideology.
The writing style feels like an odd mix of young adult and cyberpunk. It's related in a casual, first-person sort of way, like a story someone might tell in the pub. On the other hand, it's also brimming with an enthusiasm for technology that's infectious, from both the characters and the writer. The vocabulary is eclectic and anarchic, adopting and modifying words and phrases with reckless abandon. There's no purple prose or brilliant quotable bits, but it still manages a frequent turn of phrase that causes you to chuckle or think.
The characters are particularly good for this sort of story. The protagonist is a bit bland and there are some stereotypes, but for the most part everyone is believably written and well-rounded. In particular, various minorities are worked in so casually that the reader is almost as surprised as the narrator, even though it makes sense looking back. The plot rolls forward without losing momentum, right up to the triumphant climax. The thing is, though, the world is scarily plausible. This is very near-future, or at least within my lifetime near. Britain is already such an overbearing police/welfare state that one can easily imagine it devolving to this. It's already near that bad in some countries, and we're already near that dependent on the internet for a lot of people.
Like I said, this book is also a manifesto of sorts. To a large extent, one's enjoyment of this novel will probably depend on their relationship with free culture, and/or the content oligarchies of yore. It's bold as brass, and I personally love it, in part because it's nice to read a book that you agree with so completely. The whole point of the story is that it's time to rethink the whole idea of copyright, and how we interact with and share our culture with each other. It's obviously something I'm already passionate about, but even someone apathetic or antagonistic is liable to have a bit of a think after reading this. Copying is a feature, not a bug.
Looking back, it's not a perfect book and there are some stretches, but I tend to rate books based on how much I enjoyed them while I was reading them, and there's nothing that really stood out enough to interrupt my enjoyment during the read.
I absolutely loved this book, every bit as much as Little Brother, the last Doctorow novel I read. I realize the basic premise is a bit implausible, since in reality a teenager who ran away to become homeless on the streets of London (or any other big city) would be more likely to fall in with a gang of drug dealers or human traffickers than a merry band of copyright reform activists. And yes the book was preachy to the max, but considering I am just as much a copyright-obsessed nerd as any of the characters in the book, that was the best part for me. I was also a bit disappointed that the book ends on a major downer, with a very abrupt ending with no real closure.
Most of all though, the character of Trent resonated with me, because he basically IS me. Like Trent, I too am a vidder, having taken up making anime music videos in high school and continuing that practice through law school. Having experienced the joys and frustrations of video remixing myself, I completely understand what it means like to get in an artistic groove and become obsessed with finding just the right clip to put on your timeline, and I know how great it is when your remixes become popular on YouTube or elsewhere.
And like Trent, my vidding led me to become a copyright reform activist when I realized that the law made my form of art essentially illegal. Of course now that I know more about copyright law, I know that at least in the US most forms of vidding would likely actually be considered legal under fair use, but that's not true everywhere, particularly in Britain which already has far harsher copyright laws than the United States.
But even in the US, vidders continue to be harassed by copyright claims and fair use rights have to be actively defended. So I started a website called FairUseTube.org to help vidders like me defend fair use and fight false copyright claims on YouTube. Many of my experiences fighting to get YouTube to reform its copyright dispute process parallel Trent's experiences, which is why his story resonates so much with me. If ever an author has written a character who I regard as a total surrogate for myself, it would be Trent. That alone guaranteed that I would love this book, and I highly recommend to anyone else with a similar interest in vidding or copyright law.
Is there a thirteen year old in your life? If there is, this is their Christmas present. Maybe their birthday. Maybe, just maybe, this is one of those books that you don't give to them at all. Maybe it's one you toss down on the sofa in angry disgust, while exclaiming, "I can't believe they publish this crap! It actually teaches kids how to think like pirates." Then maybe you walk away and make a sandwich or something and never quite get around to inquiring after the book.
Because this is the kind of subversive, radicalizing book that kids need. This is the kind of story that takes those bright, sometimes too-clever, kids and tells them it's ok to be weird and awkward and consumed with a passion no one around them seems to understand. This is the kind of book that tells them it's ok to love their parents even when they seem antiquated and weird, that it's ok to question authority, that it's ok to dislike the system. That it's ok to be who they actually are.
Cory Doctorow seems to have found the sweet spot in his writing. His juvenile books strike that rare and near-impossible balance of being a great story and yet still educational for the kids that read them. At the same time, Doctorow's young adult books are frustrating. They're so vivid and so grounded in a possible near future, that it's almost impossible to read them without becoming angry on the protagonists' behalf.
Doctorow captures teenage passion with rare skill. He takes adult readers back to their youth, when every decision seemed weighted with an all encompassing importance that grown-ups just couldn't understand. Every feeling, every experience is so overwhelming and so confusing, and, at the same time, every passing interest and fancy excites a passion that threatens to burn you down to ashes where you stand. And, in Doctorow's stories, you, the adult reader, remember these feelings and it is both embarrassing and gratifying to stand once again in the embers, even through such a vicarious medium.
Pirate Cinema is a lot of fun. Give it to a kid who needs it.
The book takes place in a near-future London only the tiniest bit more dystopian than what we have now, and it’s about a young runaway who finds camaraderie, love, dumpster-diving, and meaningful ways to apply his talents to direct action social change.
Cory Doctorow has an amazing talent for making socially-useful fiction. And in this case, he’s written an immersive book that shows quite clearly the ways that legal and illegal activism work hand-in-hand. Of course, I personally found the direct action campaign more entertaining than the lobbying, but that’s how I feel in real life as well.
I’ve always known Cory to be a fellow-traveler to the anarchists, but we’re also given a bit of the limelight here: one of the central characters of the book works at Dancing Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore named after Emma Goldman (and, well, named after the real Red Emma’s in Baltimore). It’s not an anarchist novel, but it’s a novel that realistically portrays us as essential elements in social struggle.
And while the book takes the point of view of a straight male, it subverts the protagonist’s dominance, showing how he learns to be part of a team. I found the women characters to be strong and central to the story, and the way the book presented homosexuality to its young readers to be admirable.
But it’s also just an engaging book, a “stay up till 4am to finish it” kind of book. And a book I highly recommend.
EDIT: I've read other people complaining about how "unrealistic" it is that the protagonist falls in with a bunch of happy squatters as soon as he runs away from home. In my 10+ years as a squatter, I have to say that this isn't so unrealistic at all. No, it doesn't happen to everyone, but I've seen it happen to dozens of kids. Yes, there really are highly-functional groups of squatters out there who tend to stay clear of hard drugs, live off of begging and trash, and do alright for themselves. And runaways often end up hanging out with us.
In the summary this book is described as a dystopia. Are we living in a dystopia currently? Perhaps some would think so, and perhaps with only a few changes, such as those happening in Doctorow's fictional England, more would join that opinion. The story revolves around Trent McCauley a pretty normal kid, he's obsessed with mashing footage from films on his computer, and spends most of his time downloading and organizing clips on his computer.
Normal, except that what he's doing is illegal. Downloading copyrighted material, reassembling it and posting it online is all illegal, and if discovered there are strict punishments for such activities.
McCauley finds himself on the wrong side of the law, and his family is taken offline. No Internet Access. It's a death sentence for his family, all of whom rely on the internet connection. His mum uses it to manage her illness, his dad needs it to earn the families living, and his sister needs to complete her school work, attend classes, and get material for school online. All of that is no longer possible for them.
Unable to bear the guilt Trent leaves the burbs and heads to London, homeless and with only a few pounds in his pocket. There he enters an different, underground world and starts on a journey that will change many lives.
This book really asks some tough questions, and paints a world that is only a few laws away from the one we currently inhabit. It's a warning and a discussion, a rallying cry for us to stop the corporations before they control our lives, or more of them than they do already!
This would be a great book for a teen reading group, especially with the questions about ownership, creativity, laws and how government works. The book not only has great social messages, it also is a wonderful story, great characters, the writing is very evocative and engrossing.
I thought this book was amazing. It is impossible to tell how much of that was added by the spot-on narration of the audiobook, so I won't try.
Thematically, I'm the choir this book was preaching to. Even so, it still made me think. Near the end of my listening, my husband brought to my attention an article about "The Fattened Aleph", a reworking of Borges' story "The Aleph" for which writer Pablo Katchadjian is now being accused of plagiarism. He doubled the size of the story mostly by adding description, with little to no change to the story itself. Then he didn't attribute it very clearly. The question, which Cory Doctorow definitely has an opinion on, is whether derivative works violate copyright. If I can agree that Cecil's (the protagonist) manipulation of video clips to create new works should be allowed, why does Katchadjian's manipulation of a story bother me so much. I'm still working on that.
Meanwhile...in Americaland we have just come through a distressing presidential election, partially due to voter apathy and the sense that nothing we do, as individuals, makes any difference because politicians are going to keep making laws that make the rich richer and fuck the little guy. It's a theme in Pirate Cinema and It's nice to see a story take it on though, to recognize how completely mangled and biased politics is.
On top of all that, I liked the characters, the writing was fun and fast, and I couldn't wait for my car rides home so that I could listen to more.