Big Content doesn't want DRM because they want to usher in an era of totalitarian control technologies; they don't want copyright filters because they want to make the censor's job easier; they don't want increased intermediary liability because they want to extinguish easy personal expression and collective action. They want these things because they want to make more money. But they are indifferent to the point of depravity to the totalitarian, censorious and restrictive consequences of DRM, filters and liability. They aren't moustache-twirling supervillains. They're greedy, blinkered provincials and hypercompetitive macho bullies who are unwilling to look past the short-term benefits to the consequences.
I don't know about you, but when I refer to moustache-twirling supervillains, the presence or absence of a moustache is in fact mostly immaterial, or at any rate, you know, figurative.
Doctorow's actual point is that those who fight against righteous a2k politics rarely do so because they are eagerly explicitly awaiting a world of censorship, comformism, and totalitarian control, but simply because few of them have grasped fully the connection of their selfish and parochial politics to these outcomes in the ways that their opponents have.
But how true is that, really?
This failure of some few of them to grasp what is afoot -- especially given how many of us keep pointing it out to them in public places -- is often a matter of insistent denialism rather than innocent childlike cluelessness, surely, and as such it still seems to me nearly as culpable as arrant barking dot-eyed anime-style villainy, whether mustachioed or not.
I also think it is probably wrongheaded to deny that the dark kernel of authoritarian personality lodged somewhere in us all is indeed pretty baldly in view in the politics of all too many corporatists and moneygrubbers in their often crudely deceptive and cynically opportunistic gambits in the interests of Big Content to the exclusion of the rest of us.
Why deny this? We have all seen it. What is gained by pretending otherwise?
One can keep all these ugly realities in view, even while keeping one's eyes on the prize, after all, remembering that one should focus on structural and institutional conditions rather than posit comic book conspiracies to account for the awful inequity and duress in the world if one wants to organize effectively against it. No doubt in a more democratic, more accountably regulated, more equitably and openly institutionalized world plenty of footsoldiers in this enabling army of sociopaths and authoritarians and oligarchs would instead be behaving nicely (as no doubt many of them already do in many other aspects of their lives, in their conduct before family, friends, and sentimental old movies, in their attitudes toward infant animals and rainbows and so on).
Nevertheless, I really do think it is crucial to point out the obvious -- even if it feels a little awkward and sanctimonious to do so -- that greed and bullying actually are plenty villainous, maybe even moustache-twirlingly so when pushed beyond certain bounds; that is to say, that greed, selfishness, and bullying really simply are evil in their substance and in their worldly work.
Too many folks on the side of equity, diversity, and consent like to do these little fanciful dances proposing that the indifference of so much profit-taking enterprise to other concerns and to many of its own impacts is not in and of itself a bad thing -- motor of efficiencies, countervailing canalizing agent of other anti-social passions that it presumably is, blah blah blah -- when, actually, any practice or organization that is indifferent to its ill-effects really is indeed a bad thing. And if we need evidence, the fact is that we're soaking in it.
To be blunt, selfishness is not a virtue and greed is not good. To be selfish is never only to live as you wish but also usually to impose your wishes on those who would live otherwise, and to be greedy is never only to act in accordance with enlightened self-interest but also usually to indulge short-term or parochial interests indifferent to the costs or risks they impose on others or in the longer term.
I daresay Doctorow would already agree with this (love him!), but I don't understand why ethically righteous efforts like copyfight often frame themselves in terms that require these curious pre-emptive relinquishments of so many of the terms that render them righteous, that are indispensable to their actual intelligibility and, hence, likely success.
But of course Doctorow is right in the substance:
Th[is i]s the real fight: [A]re we shaping a world where our children will be able to come together effortlessly to improve their lots and the lots of their neighbors; where they'll be able to fight corruption and hold their leaders to account; where they'll be able to participate and help others to participation? Or will we allow a small gang of selfish and short-sighted entertainment companies to fatally compromise the infrastructure of the 21st century to add a few points to its bottom line?
It would be wrong to focus on entertainment companies to the exclusion of the still insidiously swelling for-profit in-secret security-industrial complex (Doctorow doesn't do that in general, obviously, but one can never say it enough), but it really is amazing how much the threat to open and democratic societies really is coming from Big Content "entertainment" companies.
Another side note of interest to me -- especially as I am putting together next Fall's Peer to Peer Democracy course at SFAI and starting work at last on my (long deferred by insane teaching loads) book on Hannah Arendt and the ethos/politics of the peer -- is the ease and congeniality with which Doctorow here, as in much of his best work, weaves between a2k-politics (access-to-knowledge) and p2p-politics (peer-to-peer) in making his case for technodevelopmental democratization. For me grasping both the differences between a2k and p2p and connections between the two are crucial, especially if one wants to account for both legitimacy and liberty (equally indispensable to the scene of consent) to proper democratization and especially to avoid facile and ultimately always reactionary spontaneous-libertopian figurations that still suffuse so much advocacy of open networks and copyfight in general, even among many of its best thinkers and activists.