Review: “Pirate Cinema” by Cory Doctorow


Title: “Pirate Cinema”

Author: Cory Doctorow

Genre: YA, social commentary, politics, dystopian’

Publication Date: October 2, 2012 (TorTeen/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: 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…

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a MUST READ for anyone interested in copyfight/copyright, piracy, and politics!

Review: I have to say, I’m a huge Doctorow fan. I loved “Little Brother” (and I can’t wait for its sequel, which is out next spring), and I know he has a way with words and social commentary. To mark this book as dystopian/sci-fi is a little off – while there are some dystopian elements to this book, it’s more of a near-future social commentary about freedom, one’s rights, creativity, politics, and copyright (or as Doctorow and crew at BoingBoing.net call it, “copyfight”), and how all of that comes together in how we lead our lives. While I have to agree with other reviewers in the sense that Doctorow does get a bit preachy in “Pirate Cinema”, he makes extremely good (and important) points about the way art is being crafted and driven in our current world, and this story is a cautionary tale of what might happen if we don’t pay more attention to our own liberties, artists or not.

I really connected with this book. Not just because I agree with most of Doctorow’s points on copyfight, how the industry has hijacked the artists and their works, and how the consumer has to pay for it all – but because I myself love to create art (calling oneself an artist at this point seems extremely pretentious, so I won’t do that) out of already existing works. I’ll admit to creating fanfiction (my first fandom was “The X-Files”, writing fic for that at 12/13 years old), which is a copyrighted intellectual property. I also love anime and manga – many of whose authors started as doujinka (or fanartists), creating doujinshi (fan comics) for their favorite series before being discovered or sending their work to Japanese publishers. And I’m afraid the amount of art that comes out of that industry will start to disappear, as Japan has started passing piracy laws dangerously close to the ones Doctorow has talked about in his book (and of which an actual infant version exists in the UK now, along with its admittedly failed French brother).

Let’s not forget how “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Gabriel’s Inferno” got their beginnings – yep, you got it, from “Twilight” fanfiction. Meyer could have sued, but she didn’t. Granted, the authors did a lot of rearranging with the characters, but if you’ve read “Twilight” (yes, I have, I’m not really proud of that), you can see where things have been changed within “Fifty Shades” in terms of characters and names.

So when it comes to the whole world of fan art/fic/etc, copyfight, piracy, and all of the trappings that come with it, I’ve been waiting for a book for the YA market that would bring it down to the YA level without talking down to the audience, able to explain things clearly, and give a clear layout of both sides of the argument. Ladies and gents, while admittedly biased on Doctorow’s part, this is that book.

While I wish that Doctorow had tortured/killed his darlings a little bit more in his book (especially concerning Trent and his family), I was pretty happy with the way everything came out. While Trent is a sympathetic character, I felt like he could have been moreso, but instead of just a person, he’s a generation that’s trying to create in a space that’s getting smaller and smaller without big business trying to crowd its way in. In a huge way, Trent is a placeholder, a metaphor for what’s happening right now with the internet concerning how one creates art, and how it might have awful repercussions that should not be there in the first place (or at least, have them severely scaled back). I loved all of these characters – they were all sympathetic, warm, and believable. And while Doctorow didn’t create one person as an antagonist, he used the idea of a shadowy lobby system (not unlike the ones in currently place in the real world that helped produce SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA) – an enemy you can’t really see or feel or even get a firm grasp upon, they’re so slippery that once you think you’ve defeated them, they’ve started building up yet another threat to be focused on. I loved the way that was portrayed, both with the entertainment lobbyists and the pirates, because it’s entirely true for both sides, and Doctorow makes that blatantly clear (even states as much for both sides of the copyfight) within the book.

The setting of the UK was perfect, considering how much copyfight shenanigans are currently going on with the law, House of Lords, and the ISPs, along with the entertainment lobby as a whole. Though this is in the near future, there was enough worldbuilding to make it completely believable and not much extra worldbuilding was needed mostly because so many of the struts that are already in place with ISPs and current piracy laws, as well as CCTV cameras (and in the US’s case, unmanned aerial drones) invading one’s privacy. I did love the technology that was created, both from trash and from professionals, and I loved the hackerspace mentality that was presented throughout the book. It was refreshing, and absolutely a delight to read about.

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of real “suffering” compared to most YA dystopians in this book that we’ve seen come out in the last few years. There’s a lot of intellectual and creative suffering, but physical suffering? Not a lot of that. Which is why I call this more of a social commentary/politics book for YA with a tissue-thin layer of dystopia as the cherry on top. I feel like there should have been more hurting going on, but everything that Doctorow did worked. I can’t complain when it has me going to everyone I can and talking about this book and the whole copyfight thing.

However, while there was an ‘end’ to this book, it didn’t feel entirely finished (just as he ended “Little Brother”). So I’m really, really hoping for a second book or a companion book in the near future, maybe to talk about things more in other countries. Like Sweden and their own (I kid you guys not) political Pirate Party, which actually has a place in their diet. I would definitely love to read about that from a YA point of view.

This is an empowering book, and one from which the YA market will really learn. It takes balls to write about all of this in a way that leans so far toward the “creative commons culture”, and Doctorow has huge ones. It’ll get the conversation started and started well, which is why it makes my list of best books of 2012. Both cases in the copyfight argument get presented well, and easy to understand for this age group, and will hopefully educate and empower a whole new generation to keep the creative commmons culture going.

“Pirate Cinema” is out now from TorTeen/Macmillan in North America, and it’s also available for free legally at Doctorow’s website through the creative commons license (though I do really urge you to buy the book once you’ve read it). This is one book that will definitely get everyone talking, no matter what side of the copyfight you’re on.

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2 thoughts on “Review: “Pirate Cinema” by Cory Doctorow

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow | Still Not Shakespeare

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