Dowbrigade is currently reading "Counter-Clock World" by Philip
K. Dick, a great piece of pretzel logic in which time
has started running backwards. In the novel, written in 1967, a
1986 discovery called the ‘Hobart Phase’ has started time running in
reverse. People start conversations by saying "Goodbye" and end them
by saying "Hello". The characters get younger every day, regurgitate
and reconstitute their food, and eventually dwindle away into infancy
look for a convenient
womb to crawl back into.
Hey, Jessica – one of the main characters is a librarian. As he says,
"Our job here at the Library is not to study and/or memorize data; it
is to expunge it."
We did not purchase this book, or borrow it from a library or a friend.
Rather, we downloaded it, using Limewire, a shareware Peer-to-Peer post-Napster
file-sharing application for the Mac (which we also got for free). We
then printed it out on a laser printer at work during a weekend tutoring
While programs like Limewire and Kaaza have traditionally been used
to download music MP3s, and increasingly for TV shows and feature-length
movies, it seemed like a bibliophile’s bonanza to discover that if one
types "ebook" into the search window, the result is a list of anywhere
between several hundred and several thousand titles (depending on the time of day, your internet
connection, and luck) which can be downloaded with a click. Every time
you do this you will generate a different list, which leads us to conclude
that the universe of books floating around out there in digital form
is immense, many thousands strong.
This is, of course, different from projects like Project Gutenberg and
others of its ilk, which digitize and dish out classics and public domain
literature and reference books. The books I am talking about are
an eclectic mix of current and classic, basically whatever wired people
have taken the time and trouble to scan, OCR and edit (although some
are clearly straight-from-scan, containing numerous errors). The
list of titles leans heavily towards Science Fiction, with just about
everything ever penned by Ursula LeGuinn and Isaac Asamov, plus lots
of programming books like "Linux Kernel Module Programming Guide" and
just about the whole O’Reilly cannon, and the literary equivalent of
penis-patch spam – titles like "Sex Tips Manual:
Time". Plus a "miscellaneous bin" containing cookbooks, spy novels,
the Pocket Guide to Kabala, all of Tolkein and Rowling, comic books,
atlases, dictionaries and several versions of the Kama Sutra. They are
illegal rips, like mp3’s, shared without permission of the author or
Over the past several years the Dowbrigade has downloaded about 30 books,
mostly novels, and has actually printed out and read maybe half of those.
the topic came up at an informal bloggers dinner recently, the Dowbrigade
was soundly castigated by a friend and colleague for this dastardly disrespect
of intellectual property rights.
Although we understand the objections of this friend, who happens to
be a prodigious author of intellectual property in his own right, which
obviously gives him insights and perspectives on the topic beyond the
experience of the Dowbrigade, we feel that our position is defensible,
at least in this instance.
First of all, Philip K. Dick has been dead for over 20 years. He
wrote this novel 36 years ago, was paid a miserly sum for it by the publishing
company (less than $1,000), and died in abject poverty shortly before
Blade Runner, the first of his stories to be made into a major motion
picture (starring Harrison Ford) was released. He is certainly not losing
anything from my downloading habits.
But what about his family and heirs, my friend asked. Dick is
survived by three kids, who seem to be nice people and doing rather alright. After
the limited commercial but fanatical cult success of Blade Runner (based
on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), 1990 saw the release of Total
Recall (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and based on We Can Remember it For
You Wholesale) which cleared $118 million world wide, and the estate
was set for various lifetimes.
Minority Report (2002, with Tom Cruise and based on a story by the same
name) cleared $132, and "Paycheck" to be released Thursday (Uma Thurman
and Ben Affleck) is sure to break all these records, and insure that
the Dick kids are multi-millionaires many times over. Since Dick
wrote 32 novels and over 150 stories, the surface has barely been scratched.
So I don’t think the estate needs by $7.98 for the paperback, if it
could even be found. That’s another problem. Most of the Dick novels,
with the exception of the ones which have been made into successful films,
are out of print, and can only be found in remainder bins and used science
bought on e-Bay. Although still under copyright, they are effectively
unavailable. However, according to an
article in Wired Magazine, they
are soon to be republished by Vintage:
The Philip K. Dick estate has no such problems. Isa and her older half-sister,
Laura Leslie, are upstanding Bay Area citizens, both intelligent and
obviously competent. Together with their younger half-brother, Chris,
who works as a martial arts instructor in Southern California, they control
their father’s legacy. Russell Galen advises them from New York. The
four take their stewardship seriously: They’re fine with repackaging
a novel to tie in with a movie, for example, but novelizations of short
stories are out. And thanks to Vintage Books, every word of his fiction
will soon be in print – as you’d expect for an author who’s now taught
in colleges and cited by the French post-structuralist philosopher Jean
As for film deals, the estate has become increasingly choosy. "We sort of
feel like we have to protect Philip K. Dick’s brand image," says Galen. "So
we set very, very high prices, and we’ll only do business with people who are
Our other dinner companion, a librarian, asked by we didn’t borrow the
book from a library instead of printing an illegal copy. We did
look at the university library where we work. They
had two Dick books, one a novel and the other a collection of short stories,
which we devoured, and which only whetted our appetite for more.
Well, what about the publishing company. Aside from the fact that they
are a major media corporation, they had nothing to do with the creative
or technological process that made these words available to me. They
bought the rights to something they probably didn’t even
read and wouldn’t understand or care about if they did, from another company, and now
they want to profit from repackaging, binding and marketing the content. Fine,
for them and for people who want to pay them for the convenience of
a back-pocket paperback. But do they have the right to say people
can’t access the words in other ways, from other sources.
Plus, these are the same companies that screwed Philip K. Dick during
his entire creative life. Dick hated his publishers, even as he depended
on them. We owe them no moral obligation for making these words available.
Finally, and in a related vein, we firmly believe that had Philip K.
Dick been sitting with us at that Pizzeria Uno in Manchester, NH, he
would have given the Dowbrigade the thumbs up. He was an intensely paranoid
man, and distrustful of big business and especially government. He
took a lot of drugs, especially speed and psychedelics, never paid taxes,
and as mentioned had a deep distrust of publishing companies.
According to the Wired
article, Dick was a painfully private man, and
so would probably not have joined us for dinner. Making the rather twisted
point that perhaps it was better he didn’t become rich and famous until
after his death, it speculates on how fame would have changed him:
In most ways, they agree, he wouldn’t have changed. He wouldn’t have
gotten health insurance. Instead of filing his income taxes, he’d have
continued to claim he was handing everything over to "Mrs. Frye" at
the IRS. (As far as the daughters know, Mrs. Frye never existed.) This
is a guy who had to have a friend take Isa to the toy store because he
couldn’t handle the anxiety. "The thought of the general public
knowing who he was," she says now – "he would have been out
of his mind."
So there it is, dear readers, we are confessing our crime, and admitting
to an almost complete lack of remorse. Actually, we feel more remorse for
the 168 sheets of copy paper and the toner we appropriated from the university
for the printout. But that is another strange and twisted relationship
Is this mere cynical rationalization, or yet another example of information
yearning to be free? Should we be commended, or incarcerated?
In short, is the Dowbrigade a Dick Head or a dickhead? Or both
Correction 1/1/04 – The Dowbrigade has been informed by a member of the Dick family that once an author sells the rights to a work he or his heirs have no right to subsequent resale or spinoffs of the original work. Therefore, the Dick family have not shared in the motion picture profits of the films mentioned. Our information was taken from the Wired Magazine article and reflected our ignorance of the publishing and film making industries.