Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Thanks to Kristin and Greg for inviting me to join in on your summer discussion; I'm thrilled that you've all chosen to read my book, and look forward to your comments and questions.

Kristin suggested that I start by saying a word about how I found this topic. The book did begin as my dissertation for the Communication Department at UC San Diego. How I landed on this project is a one of those stories about the circuitous way dissertations tend to take shape. At the time, I was interested in the disjuncture between ideas about authorship and contemporary forms of cultural production -- bear in mind this was 1999, well before *blogs, wikis, mashups, oh my!*, so I was thinking about music remixing and cut-and-paste media techniques. So in my dissertation proposal I set out to tackle "sampling," but to argue that as a technique it exceeded hip hop, and could be found in all forms of popular media -- television, film, art, advertising, etc. I had this wild-eyed and ambitious plan to talk about the 20th century history of montage, appropriationist art, animation, indie film, everything from Richard Hamilton to Natural Born Killers. I was going to interview Beck and the people at Detritus. As I said, ambitious. My committee, either generously or negligently, signed off on the plan. So I started reading about sampling in hip hop, which kept referencing copyright disputes; so I did some reading on copyright law, which intrigued me -- and then the RIAA sued Napster. Thank god for my Wired News email service.

The dissertation focused on the Napster and DeCSS decisions (discussed in Chapter 6), surrounded by an unnecessarily lengthy discussion of the history of authorship, the emergence of the Internet, and theories about communication technology. The committee agreed that, in the end, the dissertation was two books. So in the time since, I focused on book two, the way digital technology was being taken up as a regulatory mechanism to accompany/replace copyright law. I reorganized the project around the three cases that seemed to reveal to DRM issues best: SDMI, DVDs, and the broadcast flag. The theoretical focus shifted as I put the work in conversation with some of the theories of technology I was encountering in S&TS, particularly John Law's work, which helped me clarify the main point: that this question about technical regulation is about much more than technology, and that the political and cultural shifts happening to support DRM could have their own consequences, even if DRM fails.

There you go. I hope you enjoy the book, and that it spurs plenty of discussion. I'll try to be diligent about joining in on the online component of the conversation throughout the week.

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