Text Transcript for Session 1: Introduction, Censorship & Information Control During Information Revolutions
In this session our three co-organizers introduce the questions of the series. Are there patterns in how revolutions in information technology stimulate new forms of information control? What can earlier information revolutions teach us about the digital revolution? How do real historical cases of censorship tend to differ from the centralized, well-planned censorship that Orwell’s 1984 teaches us to expect? How can forms of information control which were not intended as censorship have similar consequences to censorship, with or without human agency?
- Adrian Johns (printing history, history of copyright, radio, piracy)
- Ada Palmer (Inquisition, pre-modern European censorship, censorship of comic books)
- Cory Doctorow (digital information policy) by teleconference.
[Ada Palmer] Let’s plunge into the discussion. So as the discussions between myself and Cory, who I hope is hearing this, have thrived in the past, we’ve often just launched from one of us bringing to the table an observation that we’ve made in the past about a pattern or a difference in regulation and then just observed similarities and launched into comparing different time periods. So, I’ll use the opening gambit and then I hope my colleagues will jump in. I want to talk about the controversy, which you Adrian are very familiar with, that happened in England in the 17th century over whether books should be censored before they’re published or whether books should be censored after they’re published. Now this is not a literal free press debate in that in no situation is anyone in this debate advocating not censoring texts. And you’re gonna read for the next week, Milton’s famous speech, Areopagitica, I pronounced it correctly-ish, which is defending and valuing the importance of not censoring books before they’re published, but instead censoring them afterward. And people often point to this text. And you’re also gonna read an essay by George Orwell talking about an anniversary celebration of this text as one of the pivotal moments in the origin of free speech debate, which makes it almost surreal when you sit down and read it and come to the sections where he’s ferociously advocating censoring certain types of material, especially Catholic material. And you say, wait a minute, this is the origin of free speech debate, this isn’t advocating free speech, but it’s arguing over something much more narrow and in another way, much more widespread, which is this larger decision. Do we say anything can be published, but then afterward if it violated something in some way, you get in trouble? Or do we say that before a thing can be published it has to go through a vetting process first, before that thing can meet the public. Now in this period, the system that was prominent on continental Europe, which is dominantly Catholic, was a system in which before you could print anything, you had to get permission. You had to get an imprimatur. You had to go to a local censoring office which might be run by the local bishop. It might be run by people who work for the king. It might be run by the Inquisition, which in turn is either run by the Jesuits or the Dominicans who in return answer to the Pope, but are not actually administered by the Pope. There’s often different overlapping groups of people to whom you could go to get this license, but you would go, you would bring your text, you would submit it the censor, the censor would read through it and either say no, you may not print this; yes you may print this, but you must change these things; or yes you can print this as it is. And then you could you print it and at the front of the book or sometimes at the back of the book, there would be a printed page saying imprimatur or imprimatur, this has permission to printed, let it be printed. And it specifies, this has permission from: and it might be the king, and it might be the bishop, and it might be the local inquisitor for that city, but that someone has said, yes this can go. And any book is pre-banned in this system, until it gets that release. Now England had the opposite system in which you could print whatever you wanted, but if you printed something that was considered to be slandering the crown, promoting papism, i.e. Catholicism, any other number of things that they consider dangerous or problematic, if it violates that, then you get in trouble afterward and they can come and arrest you, or fine you, or imprison you, or try you, but you can fundamentally publish it first. Now neither of these systems is a free press, but the effect that they have on what’s produced, Milton argues in the essay, is very different. He argues that it has an enormous effect on the psychology of the author. Who are you writing for? Are you writing for the public who will see your work? Or are you writing for the censor, who will be the first person to see your work? But whether this is the real effect, the effect Milton imagines, is another question. I would love to turn it over to Adrian to talk about this a little more and then to Cory, to talk about similarities to what’s happening in digital stuff.
[Adrian Johns] Okay, sure, thanks. In the Milton contrast, we’ll talk about this more next time I think, is as Ada said, between the pre-publication licensing system on the one hand, and the something where the book or the author or the publisher, or some agent is held responsible afterwards and in English law this was done typically through various versions of libel, seditious libel, obscene libel, blasphemous libel, or just libel, libel if you libel a person. And so as Ada says, the shift at and where between a pre-publication licensing regime and that system where something or somebody is held responsible once a book comes out, is not quite a shift to what’s a kind of libertarian idea where you can just do whatever you want. Milton’s writing though I think is really interesting for a number of reasons and actually as I was sitting down to think what would I say at this first session, the question that was in my mind was pretty much, what would I want a 10 or whatever it is, eight week class in the history of information management and censorship to go into? And found myself thinking about it in terms of the four points that Milton maps out at the beginning of that speech, as it’s called, to Parliament. The first of them, he says, he’s going to go into the history of licensing. So, where it comes from, who invented it, why they invented it and his point about that is that it’s actually rather a banal practice. It’s not terribly subtle. You don’t have to be some kind of a Machiavellian political genius to come up with it. So, he says, if it didn’t exist in the ancient world, it’s not because people then were sort of too dumb to see this extraordinary piece of political genius that would come up within the modern world. It’s that, they didn’t want it. In classical Greece or classical Rome, the Golden Age of Civilization, you didn’t, you chose not to have such a system and therefore, for Milton it seems to me, the genetic fallacy is not a fallacy that if you have something like this, that’s a relatively banal practice, the origin of it taints it. So for Milton licensing, because it emerged through Catholic authorities, is tainted with popery. And that just runs through it which is why he thinks the word, imprimatur, is Latin. The English language is too sort of imbued with principals of liberty even to write down that word in English. So that’s the first thing. As you look at the history of it, and that’s what I want to know, I want to know the history of these practices and I want to know it, this is not Miltonic, I want to know it in a way that is at least in the first instance, non-normative and I think this is really important. It’s very easy to go back into the past and see the censors as the bad guys. And to think consciously or unconsciously about a trajectory that runs and must run and should run, towards the ever-increasing exercise of freedom. I think it’s really important to at least to start, to will oneself into a position where that trajectory is at the very least, not obvious, where the censors, their bosses, the bishops, the authorities in the church and state, are not idiots, where the problems that they’re addressing are real problems, where the lines are properly to be drawn between as Milton might say, liberty and license, licensing and license are not obvious. I think that even if we get to the end of this eight weeks and we want at the end to tell a story that is morally consequential about how the way that we live now is better than people used to live or something like that, that story only carries credibility to the extent that it’s based on a historical understanding that is done in good faith and that doesn’t begin from the moral start, so I think that that’s definitely important. The second thing is–
[Ada Palmer] Let me use an example that I think reinforces how useful that question is. Last year when I ran a similar History of Censorship class and I also had a bunch of lead-up discussions with various people, I think I was at a conference actually having a discussion with someone about what is the difference between the censorship the Inquisition was doing and censorship today for example when a parent calls up a school to demand that a book be taken off of the classroom syllabus and the person said, well the difference is that the parent thinks they’re doing something good and the Inquisition knew they were the bad guys by implication. The person didn’t actually say it the second after the sentence, ’cause even in the middle of the sentence, the absurdity of the sentence became transparent to the speaker. But we do have the tendency to differentiate and to think of the practitioners of censorship sitting there in fact, like O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984 sort of wah-ha-ha-ha-ha, we have conquered information and civilization and now we get to gloat with our iron boot on the throat of humanity forever. And if you imagine that as the conscious intention of an inquisitor or any of these other censoring people whether it’s censorship aboard and the parts of the world today that have severe censorship, if you presume that that’s the motive, you’re never gonna understand the actions of that person, because they actions that we see them take are never consonant with that motive. There’s always a genuine belief somewhere that they’re doing a kind of good in advancing a particular agenda which has a value. You have to zoom into that agenda and figure out what it is in order to understand how these things operate and why people are spending their time and man hours doing what they’re doing.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, yeah, to me that’s partly just my professional training as a historian. You know, one gets a acculturated into thinking of issues in that kind of way, but it’s particularly pointed when we’re dealing with this question. The second thing Milton does, which I think is really interesting, is to say that a lot of the question here actually hangs on what you think the powers and responsibilities of readers are. So licensors are certainly readers, but so are you and so am I and Milton was writing at a time in the middle of a revolution, when there are armed forces roaming across the country laying waste to each other and to the landscape and things like that and he’s in the middle of a city, London, that is fortified against a royalist assault. And he portrays the city in wonderful prose as living through a moment of intellectual ferment, where people retreat up to their garrets and they read the latest pamphlet and they’re, as he puts it, yielding to the force of reason and convincement. For Milton, an awful lot of this is actually about the powers of readers and what your responsibility is as a reader in a republic. And this is actually for me, one of the most powerful ways in which Milton speaks to us now. I think that one of the things that I would hope to get from the discussions that we’ll have, is a deeper, greater sense of what the responsibilities of readers, viewers, what today we might call something like interactants. We are in our moment of revolution. Milton points to that. It’s a question that is very easily forgotten, because we tend, even when we go back and read Milton or we read just arguments about freedom of the press, we tend to place a lot of agency on the media themselves, on books, on newspapers, on journals and we tend loosely to say, as Milton actually does at the beginning of Areopagitica, that books are like dragon’s teeth so that you sow them, they come up as armed men. It was a reference to an ancient thing from the Argonauts. But when you get deeply into Milton’s speech, what he’s saying is almost the opposite of that. That books themselves may not carry very much agency. In fact, there’s a school of thought among modern critics that Milton thinks that books are actually pretty useless, that they don’t actually have much impact. What happens is, that readers of different kinds, with different educations and different interests, and different urges, encounter these objects and they make things with them. They do things with them. So, if you are a saintly reader and you come across a book of heresy, that book becomes for you, fuel for creating more godliness. On the other hand, if you are a heretic or an atheist and you come across a book of scripture, that in your hands, is going to become fuel for creating more heresy and atheism. So a lot of this comes down to what we think readers are. How do you discipline readers? How do you form them into communities? How do you decide what a good reader is and what a good reader is not?
[Ada Palmer] Or even differentiate between categories of readers and over and over, you see censoring bodies taking action not to destroy a text, but to make sure that X text is accessible to these people, but not accessible to those people to create concentric circles of readers with different privileges.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, one of the things that, one of the people who’s going to come in and speak is Hannah Marcus who’s recently done a PhD at Stanford, is now at Harvard, who’s done really brilliant work about how the Catholic Church in the 17th century licensed readers of in particular, things like medical books. And this to me is a really interesting thing. The third and fourth things, which I’ll just merge together are that there’s a question, as it were, the efficacy of not only censorship, but information management as a whole. We tend to think of it as a force of constraint, which it obviously is. Go to that exhibit, that Ada and her allies have put together at the library and you can see multiple cases where people have like blanked out paragraphs in books, right? So it is a force of obliteration. Books get burned and libraries get burned. But once you get beyond those sort of emphatic moments and you get into the more complex historical practices, you start realizing that the situation is a little bit more complicated than that, that as practitioners of management, these things are fertile as well as constraining. So think of Ada’s example of limiting yourself to a book that say, has to be less than 500 pages long. It’s not hard to argue, you know, if you’re interested, or for that matter, a reader, that that may be actually a good thing for many writers. You know, constraining yourself to under 500 pages. I speak as somebody who publishes books that were like 800 pages long and it probably would have been good for me for somebody to have said that. So, one of the questions is, beyond just constraint and destruction, how is it that practices of management like this have actually shaped the production and the reuse of literary, scientific, religious, political works? So there’s a protection, Milton wants to say. And then, cage into that, what do we have to say about something like the sociology of knowledge itself? How is knowledge produced under constraint? And is there a sense in which we can say meaningfully that what we know about the world is a product partly of these systems? We tend to always assume that the truth rule out. That’s another hard position to verify empirically. So those are the four things that, and I could go on, I’ve spoken enough already for the moment, but maybe I should pass back to Ada or Cory.
[Ada Palmer] Well, let’s hear from Cory, but I think we can then expand on each of those four some more today. Cory, would you like to compare to some things?
[Cory Doctorow] All right, that was a really interesting pair of interventions, especially given where I come from. So one of the things that always strikes me when I talk with Ada and also when I look at the history of information control in my own kind of fumbling, lay way is that the problems although they’re not exactly identical, they have so many parallels and the underlying issues about knowledge dissemination and the fact that it’s very hard to make someone un-know something once they know it and that tools that allow for information dissemination are extremely seductive and that it’s, they’re particularly seductive to the establishment, or the entities in power, so much so that they can’t help themselves when it comes to adopting them. And so you end up with this spiral where you have more and more of this technology being adopted by elites or by the establishment, even as they’re wringing their hands and tugging their beards and worrying that the wrong kind of people are using it in the wrong way. And you know the obvious answer, just have fewer printing presses or shut down the internet. It’s a thing that they contemplate, but that they rarely stick to. They inevitably end up trying to have their cake and eat it too. To have lots of communications technology that they can use to make their bureaucracies more effective and to make their ideology easier to spread, but at the same time, hoping somehow that that won’t lead to more of the kind of information that worries them or threatens their hegemony being disseminated and it’s this place where it gets really interesting. ‘Cause one of my theses about human action overall, is that we’re really good at kidding ourselves. We’re really good at just convincing ourselves that the thing that we want will be easier than it ends up being and that the problems that seem insurmountable will actually just turn out to be much smaller when we get closer to them. I think there are lots of reasons why this might be an aid to our condition. Speaking as a parent, I’m prepared to say that very few people would become parents if they had a realistic view of just how difficult parenting might be and so we tend to gloss over the problems that are coming towards us. And it’s this that gives rise to ideas about knowledge creation like the Enlightenment idea of peer review where it’s not enough to be really sure that you know something is right. You also have to let your enemies look at what you think is right and try and find ways to make you look like an idiot by pointing out the dumb mistakes you’ve made because unless you do that, you and your friends might all kid yourselves into doing things that are just not gonna work in the end. And so that willful blindness, I think is present in a lot of the examples that I hear from Ada when she talks about the information control systems in the period she studies and it’s definitely present in the modern technological debates about information dissemination where we’ll often hear that we can just add a little bit of technology and solve some bad information problem. And oftentimes, people who are in the position of being adversarial peer reviewers, the people who are looking at these proposals and saying, we’ll hear what the technical demerits are. They’re often accused of just being mulish or intransigent or unwilling to contemplate solutions. A good example would be be that Bono, the former front man of U2, wrote a column in the New York Times on Christmas Day in 2013, I think, where he talked about his wishlist for the coming years and one was that the internet would finally get a working copyright filter that would stop bad copyright infringement from taking place online. And he said, we know that this is possible. After all the Chinese use their own filter to stop dissident speech from being spread and if they can stop dissidents, then we can stop copyright infringement. And leaving aside just for the moment, the moral dimension of this, that there’s a technical dimension to it which is, does the Chinese government actually effectively limit or eliminate the spread of dissident ideas from its internet by filtering it? And the answer is a resounding no. People who study Chinese information control say that while it may be very effective at times, that efficacy is only tangentially related to filtering and has a lot more to do with flooding the channel with people who talk about how great the government is whenever there’s a scandal that takes off online. And that the filtering is really just a secondary system that is almost vestigial at this point. But then there’s the moral question, which is that we see from China what the filtering demands. The filtering demands that it be backstopped by extremely Draconian penalties for failing to abide by the filter, for attempting to circumvent the filter, and with the secondary disinformation systems to augment the filter and really the fact that Bono who is actually a pretty technically clued in guy didn’t contemplate that this spider he was following to catch the fly might necessitate a bird to catch the spider and a cat to catch the bird and so on, is really emblematic of this wishful thinking. The idea that these complex systems must have a simple solution and that they’re not gonna lead to a patchwork that gets bigger and bigger. We see this in all kinds of information control debates. All of the Five Eyes powers, the major Anglo nation-states, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom are in an alliance to conduct mutual surveillance, to surveil the world together. And the Five Eyes powers have arrived at a policy statement which is that they would like the platforms who provide our technology to come together and agree to no longer allow us to use cryptography tools that can’t be broken by police services, so that all secrets that we keep with our phone, or with our keyboard, will be an open book to police services. But they are mindful of the risks of this and so they’ve mandated in these demands, or they’ve included a sub-demand, which is that all these systems while they must be easily defeated by police departments, they must be impervious to criminals and spies who work for rival powers. And so it must be possible for the police to figure out what is going on when the packets leave your house, but they must still be impervious to say identity thieves who want to break into your bank account by spying on your Wi-Fi. And we don’t really know how to make locks that only work against good guys or work against bad guys rather and fail when good guys need to open them. And when this is explained in small world words very patiently to people who run the security services, their response basically boils down to: you nerds are just not nerding hard enough. Why don’t you go away and nerd harder and come back with the answer. And that is kinda this wishful thinking in action and it’s something that we see all around us. There’s a classic xkcd, which is nerdy comic strip about this, where you have a boss talking to a programmer and the boss says, when a user takes a photo the app should check whether they’re in a national park. And the programmer says, sure that’s just a geographical lookup, just give me a few hours to write it. And the boss says, and then check whether the photo is of a bird. And the programmer says, yeah, I’ll need a research team and five years, right? There’s some elements of technological development that are hard and some that are easy. And it’s not always obvious a priori which ones will be which and it is true that sometimes programmers just don’t like an idea and so they don’t want to implement it. So it’s not entirely one-sided, but there are times when you have a policy debate where literally everyone who understands the technology is saying one thing and policymakers and other stakeholders are saying something else. And the policymakers just decide the technology people are lying. So a really good example of that that’s very, very recent is in the European Union they have just advanced the next version of their Copyright Directive. This is the rule that all 28 member states of the EU will turn in to their national copyright law and it was last updated in 2001. So 17 years have gone by and it’s really time for an update. The landscape that copyright regulates has changed a lot. And so this new version of the directive, it’s pretty innocuous, but it has a couple of really obnoxious clauses kind of hidden in the dozens and dozens of clauses that make up the directive. And the one I’m going to talk about now, it’s called Article 13 and the way Article 13 works is it says that everyone who runs a platform for public communication will have to have a place where anyone can submit a work and say, this is my copyrighted work and if you see it, don’t let anyone post it except me. And these databases are open to the public, so two billion internet users can add anything to them and there are no penalties for accidentally or deliberately claiming copyrighted works that you don’t own, nor is there any provision for even checking who it is that’s making the claim. So you could just invent a new identity and go in and claim The Collected Works of Shakespeare. And then no one could quote Shakespeare on any of the platforms until a human being went in and identified all those spurious entries and striped them out again. And of course, you can use bots to create identities and submit Shakespeare much faster than a human being can in and remove them. And this is an issue that came up a lot in the policy debate over Article 13. We spent a lot of time arguing about whether this was possible or desirable. The response was universally that of course this was possible and that it just wouldn’t be that hard, that the technologists were dragging their heels, even when 70 of the key inventors of the internet, including Vint Cerf who created TCP/IP and Tim Berners-Lee who created the Web signed an open letter saying that this wasn’t possible. The lawmakers and the proponents of this just ignored it, but privately what the proponents were saying was that you could just create a system of imprimatur, that so long as the big platforms like Google and Facebook would sit down with the big entertainment companies, now after all there’s only about five big tech companies left in the world and there’s only about five big entertainment companies left in the world, and they did a deal so that they could make sure that all the stuff in the pipeline for Disney and Fox and so on was gonna be censored, then they wouldn’t really worry much about what was happening with everybody else. And that Google and Facebook and Twitter really wouldn’t have to worry about getting trolled because they could just ignore the copyright claims from the general public so long as they listened to the big five entertainment companies. This is really not too dissimilar from saying, well you can put things online once you’ve had approval from a duke or a pope or someone like it. And it replaces the system we have now, which is called notice and take down which is much more like the English system where you could publish anything you wanted so long as there was a way to reach you if it turned out to be infringing or to have violated a rule. The way that used to work and the way that it works in most of the world, is if you see something that you think infringes your copyright, you send a letter to the host and you say that infringes my copyright and the host removes it without ever getting any evidence from you, but what you don’t get to do, is say, don’t let it be published. So that seems like a good kind of summary of the lay of the land and the analogies.
[Cory Doctorow continued] One of the challenges with this new EU system is that they few big entertainment companies got together in advance and negotiated for their material to all be put smoothly into the databases so that their stuff will be taken care of, whereas the policy that will affect general use by everyday people, if you write a poem and you have copyrighted your poem and you put it up and also material out of copyright wasn’t negotiated with the same degree of clarity. So as Cory said, if somebody goes to one of these databases and uploads the work of Shakespeare, then an automated system with no human being intervening will automatically take down any blog post that quotes Shakespeare for the months it takes an appeals process to go through and say, oops that shouldn’t have been in the database, it’s not in copyright. And there’s no penalty at the end for the person who uploaded the Shakespeare in the first place. So, but this is the system which is now mandated by law despite these complicated problems. Now I want to compare it to a thing in New Zealand and then I wanna hear Adrian response to Cory’s comparison of this to an imprimatur system versus the system we have now being similar to the English system. So I’ve been delighted recently by studying the history of censorship in New Zealand, ’cause New Zealand’s legal system and America’s legal system are both founded on having been former English colonies, so at heart, the roots of their legal systems are very similar to each other and operate in very similar ways and also share a lot culturally so that if you look at the past 150 years, the same crises have often hit both of them at the same time. So that the Red Scare, this obsessive terror about Communist fifth column agents hit New Zealand and the US at the same time. The comics craze, when in the 1930s and through 1950s there was a giant surge of fear that comic books were causing juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior hit both New Zealand and the US at the same time. World War I and World War II and the special pressures those put each hit the US and New Zealand at the same time. But the US has the First Amendment which says, Congress shall make no law et cetera, so the state can’t be the agent of censorship in the US. New Zealand has no such law, so you can sort of look at New Zealand as the Bizarro universe alternate version of the US where you see what the US would have done at those points if it had been legal for the US just to censor via law as opposed to what the US did, which isn’t not having censorship. That’s an important principle to look at here. The US implemented forms of censorship at every one of these points, but it was always non-governmental circumventing legal systems in order to technically follow the First Amendment. So during the Red Scare when New Zealand made official state censors whose job was to hunt Communism, the US under McCarthyism had all of this blacklisting stuff, which wasn’t legally censorship. There was no law that was censorship, but there was blacklisting and boycotting and people being fired and the pre-internet version of doxxing, you know, publicizing people’s materials and inviting private repercussions against that person. It had the same effect as censorship without it being the state doing it. Similarly during the comics craze, New Zealand created a New Zealand official office for censoring comic books and the US didn’t, but had a bunch of Congressional hearings on whether comics were dangerous, followed by creating the Comics Code Authority which was a private company to whom comics companies could submit their comics for censorship pre-publication so a licensing thing. And if they submitted them, they would have a little seal on the comic that says, approved by the Comics Code Authority and then every single comic seller in America agreed to only sell comics with this seal. So the government made no law, but nonetheless the censorship was efficacious because you couldn’t publish anything outside. So this leads to a broader principle that I think speaks to the connections we’re looking at, which is that censorship is always partly about law, partly about technology, and partly about culture and what people do and how people do it and the way all three of these things operate, any one of them by itself can to some extent create censorship. And any one of them by itself can to some extent make censorship toothless and the example I’ll lead off with, which is the New Zealand example that both Adrian and Cory reminded me of. New Zealand still has on the books an old inherited law against a blasphemous libel. This is one of these numerous old libel laws. Blasphemous libel being defined in law as blaspheming the official religion which inherited historically is the Church of England. So it’s illegal in New Zealand to criticize the Church of England or publish anything that would undermine the Church of England. That law is on the books. It has been enforced once in the history of New Zealand in one legal case in the late 1920s, because the culture isn’t there wanting to implement this form of censorship even though the law is there. So that’s a case where the law is there, but the culture is not and so the censorship doesn’t happen. The Comics Code Authority situation in the US is the opposite or the McCarthy moment where the culture wanted this to be censored. Tens of thousands of people wrote angry letters. There were mass book burnings of comic books, so the culture created a way, para-legally, to censor comic books while the law didn’t. So it’s always partly technology, what can physically be done. Partly culture, what will people outside of law through their own everyday practices do? And will people call upon a law to be enforced or not? And then partly law. Adrian, would you like to–
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, you know that actually, sometimes these things are close to home actually literally, so I live in big ol’ 19th century house about 10 minutes walk from here and in the 1920s, one of the people who lived in this old house was a character called Ben Hecht who went on in the mid-20th century to be one of Hollywood’s leading screenwriters, but in the ’20s he was a journalist and he was working with a newspaper called, I think, the Chicago Daily News. And he was writing an inadvertent form of sort of street journalism that became a well-known work called, One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago. And Hecht was apparently a militant opponent of exactly this kind of this popular censorship where there isn’t actually a law. The story goes that in about 1922, he decided that he was going to single-handedly destroy this organization called the Society for the Suppression of Vice.
[Ada Palmer] Oh yes! They both did a burning, five billion books in New York City in the 19th and early 20th century. They’re fantastic and terrible.
[Adrian Johns] That’s something I would say. But Hecht decided that he was going to single-handedly destroy this organization that because it was based in New York which was the headquarters of the publishing industry, was dominant in deciding what actually got published even though there was no law you know, upholding it or anything like that. So what he did was he came up with this decadent novel that he wrote; it’s called Fantazius Mallare. You can actually find it. He had an artist friend of his draw a series of about 15 or 16 salacious, scandalous illustrations of guys having sex with trees and things like that. And he circulates it among a bunch of friends, saying, is this scandalous enough that Society for the Suppression of Vice will go after me? And much to his disappointment, they said, no, no, no. So he had the artist draw some even bigger penises and put them in the book, then he had a local bookseller who wanted to become a publisher and needed a big scandalous success publish it. And he sent copies to reviewers around the country with bookmarks in it so that they wouldn’t miss the scandalous bits. Much to his disappointment, the only person who actually agreed to review it was H. L. Mencken. The whole idea was to provoke the Society for the Suppression of Vice into attacking this book so that he could then sue for defamation and he was aiming to make a million dollars and destroy the Society. Unfortunately, he actually got prosecuted by the US Postal Service because it was illegal as the Postal Service said, to conspire to send obscene materials through the mail service. So in sending these things out to all the reviewers, he’d actually made himself vulnerable. And there was also, it was a long, boring legal case, but he ended up being fined $1,000 and fired from the newspaper. After about a year of trying to run actually a very interesting sort of tabloid paper about the arts called the Chicago Literary Times, which includes a long comic serial about the life of a moral censor called Herman who it’s said, was so censorious as a baby he even refused to feed at his mother’s breast, because that would be immoral. Hecht then basically up stakes and leaves and goes to Hollywood and becomes the writer for Hitchcock and Notorious and wins Oscars and all that. Anyway, so I’m sitting there in my little study in my room and suddenly it occurs to me that this is exactly, almost exactly like 90 years after this event and it’s exactly the world that Ada’s talking about, where there is no law. If you do like the legal history of censorship, you would completely not see this. It would be utterly invisible and yet, it’s actually almost determinative of the character of publishing in the US in that era. And the same thing would then be true about the cinema industry in the mid-20th century. Which is one of the reasons why Hecht refused to consider himself a screenwriter, even though that was actually really what he did. He thought the screenwriting was not a sort of serious endeavor because it was subject to the informal censorship of the studio system.
[Ada Palmer] We have a quick question [from the audience], I think related. The question is whether in the US since the Red Scare there has ever been any thing where there was such a surge of demand for censorship that laws have been enacted. I think an important detail there is that laws really weren’t enacted in the Red Scare either. That also is a period in which people find ways to circumvent and ways to enforce silence without passing a law demanding the enforcement of silence. And your example of the postal system is often a way things like that will be structured. So if you look at the earlier histories of New Zealand’s censorship system, the very first method that they use is the postal system. They’re importing almost all of their books, ’cause they’re not printing a lot of them domestically. So they make it illegal to ship obscenity through the mail and then they pass a law saying that the import people get to open every box that comes in and now they can censor materials that come into New Zealand without having to create an office yet to do so. Which ties into the larger principle that you see over and over in the history of censorship, an apparatus capable of censoring will be repurposed for censoring at some point, once it exists and once that framework is there. And lots of things, like the Post Office which were never intended to be a tool for censorship can be repurposed that way. So when all of you visit the History of Censorship exhibit, and after this I’ll talk more specifically about post-Red Scare cases, but when you visit that, you’re gonna see in the very front case some issues of the Maroon from 1951 at a moment in which the Maroon, our Maroon the student newspaper here was censored. Specifically what had happened is, this is during the Red Scare and during the summer the student editor of the Maroon went to East Germany and attended a Communist Youth rally in East Germany and then returned to U Chicago. This was a PhD student by the way and the Dean of Students shut down the Maroon by taking its budget away and saying you’re no longer gonna be a recognized student group, you’re no longer gonna get a budget, we will no longer support the Maroon unless you get rid of this editor. And for about week and a half, the Maroon didn’t exist. Now if you go to the exhibit, there are photographs of sit-in protests against this and in the end, the students capitulated and the editor resigned. He was also, by the way, kicked out of his PhD program, but adopted by a different department.
[Adrian Johns] Which department?
[Ada Palmer] I’ve been trying to look it up and I can’t find it. It’s a fascinating little incident. But this is at the same point that U Chicago is refusing to fire its Communist faculty even though huge pressures from the state and from the general public are trying to get U Chicago like all of the other universities at the time, to fire its Communist faculty. So we’re seeing inconsistency within the university itself, in which some departments, some administrators, are exercising things that are censoring and others are not. Now, the budgeting system for student clubs was never intended for censorship. Neither was the PhD admissions system. But in this case, we see both of them being repurposed for censorship because they can operate as censorship, as the Post Office can operate as censorship. And once you create an apparatus that can be used that way, you don’t know into whose hands that apparatus will move over future decades as different crises arise. And when you see debates, including one that I know is very heated among our community, which is debates over safe spaces and trigger warnings which are immensely valuable tools for ensuring the welcome of my kinds of people and the safety of different kinds of conversations. Those, much like the budgeting of a student clubs, can in particular circumstances also be perverted by people who intend to do so, into tools for censorship. And that debate is really a debate about how do we implement the useful half of this while making sure that it doesn’t get repurposed into the censoring half of this. And like just about any technology whether it’s a licensing system or a Post Office, the real answer is, boy we don’t know yet how to make a thing which can be censorship never be used as censorship. We can hope that just as in New Zealand there is nobody who wants to prosecute anyone for blaspheming against the Church of England and so no prosecutor will do that. We can hope that nobody at the University of Chicago is ever gonna use trigger warnings or safe spaces to try to shut down something, but it happened to the Art Institute last year, if you wanna look up that case. It can happen and so again, because you don’t know what the portion of censorship that is culture will be 50 years from now. You don’t know whether than culture will shift enough that the apparatus you’re putting in place today will come to have different functions and structures. So then the question was about whether since the Red Scare the US has implemented legislation on this, even during the Red Scare, it didn’t. So the parallel version of that question is whether since the Red Scare, there have been other crisis moments at which the US has implemented things that are forms of censorship in different ways to respond to different concerns or anxieties within law as opposed to points when PTA associations demand that a book get drawn out of a school, which is entirely separate from law. There, the answer is yes and then it’ll often be symptomatic of particular local crises. The cases I’m most familiar with are a couple of recent cases involving comic books, which are perennially targets of more censorship that prose media or text media, partly because they are visual so they have visual images of adult material, partly because they are associated by many societies with kids and therefore the impulse to protect kids from things through censorship, which is a very powerful impulse in a lot of cultures, targets them the most and also because cartoonists often do politically provocative work, particularly in newspaper form, so for those three reasons, comics are subject to more than many things. So there have been a few cases in the 1990s and 2000s involving comic books in the US, which again, are very telling for the culture of a thing. And if you go to the exhibit, there is comic on display called Demon Beast Invasion the Fallen Volume 2 and it is a American comic based on a Japanese erotic anime. So it’s a manga because it’s actually made by American artists to be in the US and parenthetically, it’s awful, it’s just dreadful, like on the you can’t tell what’s going on page by page incomprehensibility, like I love this, it’s so bad, but so this comic was the subject of a lawsuit and a conviction for obscenity for being sold in a comic shop in Texas. And this is a case around 2001 and it was in an adult’s only section of the comic shop, but the argument of the prosecutor is that this is a medium intended for kids, we all normally associate comics with kids and that the store was near a school. The comic shop employee who sold the comic from the adult section to an adult was nonetheless convicted of violating obscenity law for having it and this went to the Supreme Court and was upheld. So there is precedent within America that it is illegal to have and sell this comic which I have put on public display in our library and in fact, if you go around the back of the exhibit case, it’s open so you can look inside if you would enjoy doing so. And I’m not worried about an obscenity case because we’re in Chicago, but I would have been if I’d tried to do the same exhibit in the Special Collections Library in Texas where I lived before I came here, because it’s not just about whether the law is there and whether the legal precedent to enforce the law is there, it’s also about whether the culture, even the micro-culture is there. Because for me to be prosecuted for that, somebody has to walk into that library and say, I want the prosecute the curator of this exhibit for displaying this object and I don’t believe any person who walks into that library and looks at that is going to do so. But there are plenty of other places in the US where one would and where these laws which are on the books over things such as obscenity sometimes operate in censoring and sometimes don’t.
[Adrian Johns] To the question about whether there are things like a popular movement that actually gives rise to something like a statute, I think one of the issues, one of the problems about answering that is that one has to go into the question of what an actual popular movement is because so much of these things are, as it were, AstroTurf campaigns, right? But the one that comes to my mind, I can’t remember the details of it, but I think Cory will know it, was that the original Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by Barlow, whenever that was written, was written in response to a Telecommunications Act that was passed by the Clinton Administration and I can’t remember what the reason that act but my memory is that bill did pass, I’m not sure whether it’s still law, but it was law for a long time, was a accompanied by at least a kind of appearance of popular concern about things like the first generation of hackers and credit card accounts and that kind of issue. Cory, do remember what this was? It was something like that and it was a big enough deal about freedom of expression that it did incite that famous declaration.
[Cory Doctorow] Yeah, I’m just verifying it at my end. I thought it was, hang on lemme just find it here, I though it was the Communications Decency Act. Yes, it was the Communications Decency Act, which you know some of it is still intact with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is the organization that Barlow helped to found, we sued over part of it and struck it down. But the Communications Decency Act was meant to hold service providers liable for indecent speech on their platforms and specifically to create a kind of PG internet where there wouldn’t be anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for a kid. And the idea was` that this infringed freedom of speech in important ways, that there were lots of ideas that were not necessarily kid-friendly, but that would nevertheless be protected by the First Amendment. And it was a form of prior restraint for the state to impose this and you know, the thing that strikes me as I listen to both of you two talk about this, is another early EFF board member’s idea, Lawrence Lessig, who is one of the leading cyber-lawyers of our age, and Lessig talks about how the world is regulated ultimately by four forces, code, which is what’s technologically possible; law, what’s legally permissible; norms, what is socially acceptable; and markets, what’s profitable. These obviously interrelate with one another. You can impose very high fines for undertaking certain actions and then a law can make a course of action unprofitable, but activists of all stripes or policy entrepreneurs of all stripes, people I agree with and people I disagree with, use a blend of these four levers to try and move the world. So if you can’t get a law passed to prevent an activity that you disapprove of, you might organize a boycott and use markets to prevent an activity that you disapprove of and that’s been used by people I agree with and people I disagree with. You might make some code to expose whether your internet service provider is selectively blocking websites, or you might make some code to shut down websites that you disagree with by flooding them with traffic and you may use that against oppressive governments during the Arab Spring which is a thing that happened. Or you might use it against news agencies during the US election because they’re critical of Donald Trump, which is also a thing that happened. And so one of the ways to make some coherence out of this question of when something is or isn’t censorship, is to abstract it from the layer of whether it’s legal censorship and then just ask yourself, is censorship taking place and if so, is it using code, law, norms, or markets, or some combination of them to effect that.
[Adrian Johns] Here’s another thing that I wasted to bring up, this goes back to something that Ada said like an hour ago, about I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was about the comparison between the, oh, that’s right, it was about the take down systems versus the new EU protocol in Europe on the one hand and the situation in England in particular in the other one. And I think the neuron that that causes to fire in my brain is telling me this: that one of the things about the early modern England situation that Milton had written about for example, is that there was actually a licensing system. It comes and goes. In periods of stress, it might lapse for awhile and then Parliament or the king reintroduces it. And it’s tied in, in complicated ways that we might talk about in some future session with what we anachronistically call a system of copyright. It wasn’t actually called copyright then. It’s a different thing. But it’s basically a system of creating sort of our special monopolies around either individual books, titles, or classes of books. So you could get the sole right to produce books of the common law in England for example, which was actually a really valuable package to hold. And Milton is at pains to say in Areopagitica that in questioning licensing, he doesn’t want to question that. He doesn’t want to question what is seen as a kind of a property right, but it’s not a property right for authors, it’s a property right for booksellers, publishers, printers. Now when the licensing system really did finally lapse in England, which was 1695, partly by accident actually, but it lapses in 1695. There’s then a period of about a decade when the book publishing industry lobbies over and over and over again to get it back. It’s actually one of the interesting things, that once some of the big backers of what looks to us like a censorship system are actually the printers and publishers and the reason is because it’s the legal underpinning for this system of literary property. In the end, Parliament listens and it creates a new statute which passes in 1709. It’s often called the Statute of Anne and it’s the legal foundation of all subsequent Anglo-American copyright, though again, actually the term copyright doesn’t actually appear, it’s actually a neologism of a generation later. What I’m getting at with this is that sort of conjunction between, if you like suppression and production, between the subordination of creativity to things that have already once been created and we now want to protect, goes right back to that moment when licensing lapsed and what was produced to replace it was not more licensing, but was copyright. And the agitation for licensing disappears when copyright is actually passed, because the industry didn’t need licensing at that point.
[Ada Palmer] Before that point, often licensing was the only way you as bookseller could guarantee that someone next door wouldn’t immediately print the same book that you had just printed and sell it and kill your sales, so ironically booksellers, especially in France and Italy sometimes just loved the Inquisition, ’cause the Inquisition was the only thing that was giving them any private license through which to enforce copyright when there wasn’t copyright yet. And without that, their sales would be at risk. So if they could get the Inquisition to grant them permission and monopoly permission to print a thing, then they had some way to enforce that. So ironically, despite the fact that we think of the Inquisition and it generally was destructive and stifling in many ways, from this particular economic incentive point of view, certain kinds of printers and booksellers, it was very beneficial.
[Cory Doctorow] And there’s an important gloss here in terms of the way that copyright springs into existence when there are other priorities along side of it that sometimes had to do with censorship or with other public priority, so for example in the Statute of Anne, one of the important things that the Statute of Anne did, was it gave the English printing industry an enormous advantage over the Scottish printing industry at a time when Scottish and English industry were locked in a death match. By contrast, a US games company struggled for a long time to get Congress to enforce their copyrights, or the courts to enforce their copyrights. Basically what would happen is, video game companies would show up in Congress and say, we’re being pirated into oblivion and Congress would say, well that sounds great to us, what can we do to ensure that oblivion happens faster. We hate you guys. And so they had to figure out their own course. And then you have the example of Russia, which never gave much thought to American copyright until they did, until they created some of the most Draconian copyright laws in the world, but used them exclusively to shut down newspapers on the grounds that they might be pirating Microsoft software.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, in fact, one of the things that I’ve been working on myself in my own research is the history of the practice of imposing or resisting the imposition of copyright and actually patents too, but copyright is what’s relevant here. It turns out there’s a history of policing institutions and practices which is not reducible to the letter of the statutes of copyright or even to the common law precedence of copyright. It’s a history of this kind of institutional policing practice where the police have always just slightly gone beyond what they’re allowed to do. So they’ve insisted on sort of going into people’s houses, or using informants, or this kind of thing. And in that sense, the kind of thing that was actually turned back in the US with the SOPA and PIPA Acts about five or six years ago and has just been instituted in Europe with this new EU protocol, the law or whatever it is. Actually it has quite a long backstory to it where as it were the content industry and its epigones have made a habit of advancing the law by out there in the world stepping one step beyond what law is already and then demanding that the law expand to reach their practices. Again this is something that we may talk about I think in future days, ’cause it’s quite an interesting and I think rather unknown story.
[Ada Palmer] So I wanted to present two similes I often use for thinking about censorship history and then I think we can plunge back into some of the comparisons that we had landed at with what licensing does and the interesting ideas of the different points of what can operate as censorship law versus culture versus technology versus economic and profitability incentives. But there are two similes that I’ve often found useful for thinking about censorship, particularly in those odd moments where Adrian brings up the Society for the Suppression of Vice and we both go, yes, I love the Society for the Suppression of Vice, which we do because these are the objects of our study. There are a lot of points in this class where we’ll be talking about something, I might be talking about the Inquisition and I’ll say, the Inquisition didn’t do this terrible thing people think the Inquisition did. And it will sound like I’m defending the Inquisition and I’m not, but just as a doctor who wants to treat cancer has to know exactly how that cancer operates and wants to learn as much as possible about that particular cancer because we have to understand it to attack it and we have to understand it to defend against it. So similarly, it’s indispensable to understand exactly what the Inquisition did and exactly what the Inquisition didn’t do in order to use it as a case study to help us understand more broadly the ways in which real world censorship does and has operated and the ways in which in genuinely doesn’t. And Orwell’s 1984 comes into this in a very big way because it’s an immensely powerful narrative about totalitarianism and about censorship and it has generated vocabulary for talking and thinking about censorship that is indispensable around the world. And terms such as Big Brother and doublethink and newspeak and the chocolate ration has been increased. These are tools that we all use for vigilance and for discourse. And they’re invaluable and we love them, but the Ministry of Truth as Orwell describes it, doesn’t operate like any real censoring body has ever operated. He depicts an incredibly well-funded centralized system with unlimited resources and a clear, multi-decade vision of exactly what it’s setting out to do. And at this point, we will have deleted these words from the language and at this point we will have deleted these words from English language as we advance toward our consistent and unchanging long-term goal. And the closer you get to looking at real censoring bodies, the more they’re never like that. The more they’re always cutting corners because they don’t have enough staff. The more they’re constantly changing, the more they’re almost always improvised suddenly in response to a perceived crisis. Oh no, there are Communists, quick make something to deal with it. Oh no, there are Aryan heretics, quick make something to silence that. Oh no, there are talkies and now there can be bad words in movies, quick, make something that can censor that. And then these systems, once they’re in place, having been improvised for one purpose, get repurposed over time for others. So we need to zoom in on these details and see the kinds of ways censorship has really operated, so that we aren’t only looking out for the Orwellian kind, because while some forms of real world censorship resemble Orwellian totalitarianism in some ways, a vast majority of them don’t. And we need to study those cancers too. We need to understand how they operate. So that’s the one simile that I’ve found powerful and useful for understanding how it is that we can say, oh I love the Society for the Suppression of Vice, just a cancer surgeon can say, that was a great cancer sample; it really helped me understand cancer. The other vary different simile that I’ve found useful has to do with the omnipresence of censorship as a phenomenon and especially as human impulse, especially if we’re coming from a very modern and very American-shaped point of view that censorship is bad and should always be forbidden. It’s easy to somehow think of free speech as a norm and censorship as a violation that is invading that space, that by default there would be no censorship if not that censorship were introduced. But no matter how far back you go in any kind of historical record, you see impetuses in this direction. There’s a book burning in the Hebrew Old Testament. There are impetuses toward censorship in huge scales and tiny scales all over. So a way I like to think about it is that censorship is one of the elements of the social periodic table. It’s always around in lots of different forms and it can combine with different stuff. And it can be dangerous or it can be in such minute quantities that it doesn’t matter, but it’s around as a genuinely omnipresent neutral presence in a sense unless it takes form. And there are elements of the period table that are deadly to us when we are near them, because the are radioactive or because they are toxic. But that doesn’t make them unnatural, nor does it mean that they aren’t one of the things that’s always present in the physical world. We have no cases of societies without censorship, none. There aren’t any because censorship can be as large as the Great Firewall of China and censorship can be as tiny as a parent deciding to give or not give a book to a kid because the kid is or isn’t over a particular age. And all of these micro and macro versions of censorship are found affecting every single human culture. So we distort the image if we think of censorship as an intrusion into a default neutral space of speech and therefore, I find it useful to think instead as one of many elements of the natural periodic table of society that human beings and the human impulse to say I do not like that thing, I want it to shut up will always bring in to a society and then we watch how it works and how we can make the best possible society given that this impulse is universal among human beings and that that’s a useful frame.
[Adrian Johns] I think one thing that I would just say to add to that is that it’s almost a corollary, sorry I’m very gloomy right now, that it’s not only that censorship is ubiquitous and sempiternal, it’s that in any one society you’re very likely to find different agencies of censorship operating at the same time and they will have crossed interests. Sometimes this is just because we’re using the word censorship in this context suddenly very broadly so one might talk about self-censorship for example, things that authors draw back from saying in the first place. We use the term very broadly in that sense. But it’s also true if you use the term narrowly to mean something just like institutional policing of media and it certainly is right to go back again my period, but in the 16th, 17th through early 18th centuries, you often find that in a society there will be not just a licensing authority, but there may be different licensing authorities where one licensing authority thinks that a certain thing should be licensed, another one thinks that it shouldn’t. Or in Catholic countries, you’ll have different indices. You know the Index of prohibited books. We tend to shorthand that to say The Index. And there was a The Index that was produced out of Rome, but there was also local, there was a Spanish index–
[Ada Palmer] And a Portuguese index and–
[Adrian Johns] And these things might have–
[Ada Palmer] A Czech index and-
[Adrian Johns] Yeah and they might have different things on them and where the rubber hits the road with that is when you actually send out like constables to do something about the enforcement of these rival censoring systems. And you sometimes find this pretty much literally true in 17th century London, you find these constables actually coming to blows with each other because one was saying, I’m censoring this. No, you’re not, I am. And there are letters by one group of censors who derived their authority from the crown and another group of censors who derived their authority from the civil law courts or something, where they actually hate each other. And one of them actually says at one point that he wished the other one could be hanged. I think one of the things it’s going to be interesting to try to explore a bit is this disaggregated notion of what censorship is, that it’s not just that it’s always there across different societies and it’s not that you can’t escape it, it’s that there are multiple competing versions of it that exist often in any one society. One of the corollaries of that is that it does create a certain kind of space for, if you like, resistance. Or at least manipulation. If you know what you’re doing, you can use these authorities one against the other. In the early modern world, you often find that authors, at least in London this happens, will go to dinner with a licensor and they’ll agree that the book gets licensed over dinner, but that gets them in, right? Galileo does this actually. Milton picks up on the fact that you can have multiple imprimatur, imprimatur, imprimatur, different examples, but Milton’s dialogue on the two great world systems which is actually the thing that falls afoul of the Church
[Ada Palmer] Galileo’s.
[Adrian Johns] Sorry, Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. I’m a Milton fan; everybody good ends up being Milton in my eyes. He gets actually licensed by multiple authorities in the Church and it’s despite that that it ends up being subject of the trial of Galileo. And it’s an example of him, Galileo and his allies, trying to use the locality of licensing regimes to try to get through to being a sort of allowed voice. So he gets a Dominican licensor in Florence if I remember right and another Dominican somewhere else. The idea is there’s a kind of, yeah, there’s a geography to it. And if you know the terrain, if you know the contours of it, then you can work with that and get your stuff out through the backstreets in a sense.
[Ada Palmer] And that even grows over time as people get better at it. So if that’s an example from the very end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century and if you move forward to later 17th and 18th centuries, authors and publishers really understand if you get letters endorsing this from enough people involved in censorship processes, you can override other people and so Pascal, for example, of Pascal’s triangle and Pascal’s Wager, who was also involved in Jansenism which was the big boogie man of 18th century France in a lot of ways. They’re much more scared of Jansenism, which is this ultra-extremist, think of Calvinism for Catholics, we wanna be Catholic and have to obey the Pope but we wanna have all the grimness and despair that is Calvinism also, that’s Jansenism.
[Adrian Johns] The best of all worlds.
[Ada Palmer] And this far more than Voltaire or Rousseau or anything is what 18th century censors were really scared of and Pascal is a Jansenist, but he’s friends with a dozen bishops and he constantly is hanging out with these bishops and whenever he wants to publish a thing, he gets 12 bishops to write recommendation letters saying how great the thing is and that it should be published and then he sends it in with 20 pages of, I am a bishop and I say this can be printed. I’m also a bishop and I say this can be printed. And then the little peon at a desk censor whose job it is to overwrite all these wealthy and influential bishops can’t dare do that. And this becomes even more extreme in some of the peripheries so that Stuart McManus who we’ll have at our last session who works on the activities of censors in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, will sometimes find a text where half of the pages are permissions for it to printed from dozens and dozens of different authorities representing the overlapping, this bishop of this area and this person who is responsible on behalf of the governor and this person who’s responsible on behalf of the king, and this person who’s responsible on behalf of this local monastery and that local monastery, so that half of your text will be all of the people who said, yes, this can be published, which become tools to then override the comparatively powerless person who’s the end person who has to check it off at a desk. ‘Cause one of the features of a lot of censorship is that the person whose desk job this is is not nearly as influential as the political figures to whom a well-connected author can turn, but to whom a not well-connected author can’t turn, which makes it easier for elites to perpetuate themselves and other kinds of networks and relationships to bypass or manipulate these overlapping simultaneous systems but to limits. And we see that in the case of the famous encyclopedia Encyclopédie the big central project in many ways of Enlightenment France and it is published with permission of the king and everyone in France loves it and the king loves it, but after Volume 7 it is condemned by the Pope, by the Inquisition for it’s radical ideas about religion and especially politics. And so it’s condemned by the Pope, so then it has to be condemned in France. But that doesn’t mean they have to do it very sincerely, so the thing is condemned by the Pope and it is officially condemned in France which means Paris must host precisely one book burning and ceremonially burn a copy of the Encyclopédie and they marched the Encyclopédie over to the fire and set it aside and burned copies of Jansenist theology texts instead, in its place, as a proxy, ’cause they have to ceremonially burn something. And then from then on, everyone knows the Encyclopédie is illegal, it’s being printed in Switzerland and being smuggled across the border, but also that no one in all of France will actually prosecute you for having it to the degree that if you’re printing scandalous stuff, like pornography or indeed, Jansenism, in Switzerland and trying to smuggle it across into France, you wrap it in copies of the Encyclopédie, because then on the border they’ll open up the box and they’ll say oh, it’s just the Encyclopédie and let you go through. Smuggling a banned book, it’s also banned, but it’s also less banned because it’s been banned by the Pope, but everyone knows the king likes it and everyone in France likes it, so it’s only slightly banned. Now this is from a legal point of view, absurd but it was a very real portrait of how these overlapping and competing authorities often line up. And I would love to hear Cory whether you have electronic versions of the same kinds of things.
[Cory Doctorow] The existence of overlapping authorities, not exactly, I mean in the policy side, what you sometimes see is that a doctrine intended to effect censorship on behalf of, or in service to one cause will be hijacked by someone else to their great resentment. So for example, in the UK there’s a thing called the Internet Watch Foundation and their job is to compile lists of all the images of the sexual abuse of children on the internet and make a blacklist and send it to the six major ISPs that are the majorities of internet service in the United Kingdom and have them block it for obvious and good reasons, but they’re also very anxious ’cause they understand that they’re mostly normative. It’s kind of a self-regulatory thing where there’s no law that binds the ISP to using them and they’re public-spirited and they don’t want to give ISPs a reason to stop paying attention to their blacklist and they’re mindful of the fact that these blacklists are often a catchall for other stuff. Wikileaks published the blacklist used by Australia for child pornography and found that 98% of it was not child pornography, 98% of it was other things that Australian bureaucrats didn’t like but which they’d added to the child pornography filter for the purposes of blocking it. And because they knew that no one would ever publish the list of things banned as child pornography because it would also be a list of things you could go and look up if you were interested in child pornography, they were comfortable with the idea that they could put things like websites that gave you advice about suicide, or online gambling websites, or websites that gave you advice about synthesizing illegal drugs, that they could put those in the child porn list and they would never show up. So in the UK, there’s a kind of low-grade war that’s been fought for years now between Internet Watch Foundation and the copyright industries who would like very much to use the Internet Watch Foundation as a blacklist for a copyright infringing sites.
[Adrian Johns] That sounds grimly expected. Yeah, I think that’s–
[Ada Palmer] It reminds me as well, of when you talk to comics authors who wrote under the Comics Code Authority which I mentioned before, which is this voluntary censoring body to which you had to submit your comics to be approved before comic shops would shop them and this is from 1954 through the very beginning of this millennium. It closed down when Marvel and Archie finally stopped doing it and then it had no strength anymore. Marvel and DC as well. But it was created in theory, to censor images of sexuality, violence, and criminality which were theoretically making kids turn into juvenile delinquents.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah comics, you can’t have it without criminality.
[Ada Palmer] Well, they even had a mandate in it that no officer of the government will be depicted doing anything bad or corrupt and that good, you know good will always triumph over evil was one of the requirements of the Code. But if you look at what’s actually censored, ’cause what happens is, a comics artist sends in their work, an individual person sits down at the desk and page by page decides whether things are too graphic or not and one thing that I’ve talked to artists and they’ve said they noticed is that particularly during the Civil Rights Movement, they would get a lot more demands to redraw stuff when they were depicting African-American characters than they would otherwise, that the people were being super extra picky and insisting this image is too graphic, much more when they were depicting non-white characters which of course makes it much harder for them to tell stories about racial minority characters because every time the censor demands that you redraw things, you miss your deadline which is disastrous economically for you and your publisher. And if the number of pages that get demanded to be redrawn for Black Panther is four times the number of pages for any other title, the Black Panther is gonna be a much harder title to put out. Now this is not what this was invented for. It was invented for sex and violence, but it got repurposed not through any centralized decision on the part of the creators of it or the society in general, but the individual anxieties of the person who’s sitting at the desk, who’s possibly not even conscious of the fact that this censor, they were almost all men, so let’s just he in this context, ’cause it is very much dominated in that period by that, but well, whatever, that this censor may not even be conscious of the fact that this censor is being extra picky on axes of race and that anxiety about the Civil Rights Movement is causing that pickiness. The person might just genuinely be reacting more strongly to this image and not thinking through why this person is reacting more strongly to that image, but there is no surveillance mechanism to police, to watch the watchman in this case. There’s nobody to double check what is this person deciding to censor and why is this person deciding to censor it. It’s very similar to the work that Joshua Craze has done on government redaction, right? So when the government, let’s say the US government under something like the Freedom of Information Act is demanded to release documents, before those documents are released, a redactor gets to go through and cut out text that if released would be dangerous to national security. We have all these specific rules about what is considered dangerous to national security and what can’t be in there. But there’s no way to check what the erased content was, because it’s been erased. By definition, there’s no possible public oversight of this, the only oversight of this would be an officer outranking the person who sat down to do the redaction double checking the redaction. But what this means is that the redaction is effectively an unpoliceable practice despite being designed to answer to the public press, which leads to cases like the one that’s displayed in our exhibit, which was the national security estimate, national intelligence estimate, anyway it’s a document about looking at Iraq and the question of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and this is a 2002 document which is one of the documents that the Bush administration uses to justify the Iraq War and the version of it that was released in 2004 to justify that, has page after page of blank white, blank white, blank white, blank white, blank white. With the claim, this stuff was material that is dangerous to national security, which is totally plausible in a document that’s all about how to make bio weapons and how to make chemical weapons and how to make nuclear warheads. It’s very plausible that all of these pages are details about that that we don’t want to be released to the public, but quite a bit of it was paragraphs that said, looks like they don’t have nuclear weapons, looks like they can’t do this, looks like they can’t make that. But there was no way to double check whether that stuff was blacked out or not because you can’t supervise on that micro level what’s happening within the mind of the censor, within the activity of the redactor et cetera. And it’s even harder of course now, that an electronic-based databases are trying to create ones where there is no human being. Now this new thing that the European Union has created, there will be no human being. There is an automated system that says anything in my database I will take the blog post down. And if Hamlet is in my database, then if you quote Hamlet, I will take the blog post down. And there isn’t a human involved in that at all, which is one of the moments at which digital censorship is categorically different from pre-modern or pre-digital censorship, ’cause there’s always been a human being to some extent, except when the destruction of information was mildew, which destroys lots of information. There’s always been a human being making a decision, but now there doesn’t have to be.
[Adrian Johns] There was actually one period when in principle one could have done that checking of the explication process which was that in the Clinton administration, they declassified a lot of documentation and so it was possible to get stuff out of the National Records–
[Ada Palmer] And indeed this was declassified later as well, which is how we know what those paragraphs said.
[Adrian Johns] But the thing was–
[Ada Palmer] 2014.
[Adrian Johns] It then got reclassified by the Bush administration, so there was this bizarre moment when a number of things that had actually been published in books and the like, the state was going to kind of re-extend the carapace of secrecy over them again. And I can’t remember exactly what happened about it, but it did mean that in principle, for that one set of documentation, you might have been able to get a sense of what the criteria were for saying, this was thought to be open and now it’s being taken back into the secret realm, so you had this kind of paradoxical situation where you had sentences that were secret, but you knew what they were, because they had been open and they had been published. It was completely absurd, I mean I don’t, you know if you go back in history and find out the details of it, but the business about automating suppression, I think is clearly one of the big issues of our time particularly as far as one can tell, and Cory will know all this much better than I, so I’ll pass over to him. As far as one can tell, in the first iteration of it, there was a system where yes the take downs were automated, but there was an appeal system where it went to some, at least putatively human authority. But as I understand it, the appeals system is also now automated, so what’s happening is that one’s kind of pushing human intervention back further and further. And in a world where decision-making has to take place on the basis of a day, or an hour, or a minute, it matters a lot more than it used to, if your stuff is taken down for 48 hours, but in practice it can be months. So, you know in a certain sense, the threshold has changed. In the 17th century what you might be worried about was outright suppression and in a certain sense that’s not quite the issue now. What’s the issue now is suppression for very specific periods of time, I think, unless you live in somewhere where they really do have suppression, but in the US, it’s more that, it’s more that kind of issue. Yes, you can appeal and maybe in six months you can have your version of Hamlet up online again. But in the meantime, everybody’s eyeballs have gone somewhere else. And the world has moved on. I think that the context is everything for this and it’s really been a sort of transformation that we haven’t got the political apparatus to manage.
[Ada Palmer] Cory, do you want to weigh in?
[Cory Doctorow] Yeah, I wanna talk about how this is a kind of microcosm for another problem which is that computers don’t have a lot of nuance. So if you think about about addressing an envelope, you might might have address that’s sort of too long to fit on one line and you might break it onto two lines. And if it’s too big to fit on the whole front of the envelope, you might write in smaller handwriting, or if the address is ambiguous because it’s going somewhere very rural, you might add a note to the letter carrier that would help them find it.
[Ada Palmer] You have a lot less option in the UPS form. There is no adding a note to the letter carrier there, it all goes into the computer, has to fit in the boxes. Oh you’re back!
[Cory Doctorow] That’s right and you know this is the same when we talk about things like gender or time or dates. There’s a lot of ambiguity, in fact there are big lists of things that programmers think they understand, but they don’t, like how many names a person can have, or how long a person’s name is, or what characters are used to write people’s names. The existence of these edge cases, or the human slack in the system that created a space where even though you had a formal system that was prescribed human beings at the periphery could make exceptions or kind of move things around, that goes away when we go all digital.
[Ada Palmer] And so the question is, whether there was worry that reading this dangerous material all day is gonna be dangerous to the moral character or the soul of the person who’s doing it. There’s absolutely anxiety about that with the Inquisition, but there’s also, I’m gonna say intellectual tools for mitigating that anxiety. So there’s a pattern you see a lot with the Inquisition where there’s an expectation that if you’re already a good and educated person, you will be largely immune to the dangerous errors of things that you’re looking at because you’ll know that they’re false. And so one of the texts whose censorship history I look at a lot is Lucretius’ epic poem De Rerum Natura, On the Nature of Things. This is a first century BC poem about physics, yes, physics poem about atoms and vacuum-forming substances. It’s riveting. It’s missing in the Middle Ages. It comes back very abruptly in the Renaissance. It contains a lot of very interesting language. It also contains a denial of the immortality of the soul, a denial that Gods listen to prayer and it creates a portrait of the formation of the Cosmos which has it happen at random out of natural forces and atoms moving around in the void clumped together to form substances and then lots of things which feel very modern to us and which we expect to be very threatening to the Inquisition. So the Inquisition’s response to this is no problem, everyone can have it. It’s perfectly safe. We have letters of the founders of the Inquisition talking speaking specifically about this poem saying it’s fine, it’s in Latin. Everybody who’s wise enough to know Latin, is wise enough to know that this stuff is wrong. And it’s when it’s translated into Italian that then they ban it, because then it’s gonna be dangerous because it will be in the hands of less educated people who will not know that this stuff is false. So there is the expectation that because this is being done by educated elite censors, right? This is being done by Dominican monks and later, the Jesuits who have a very rigorous education. They’re gonna already know the stuff is false and be immunized by that against some kinds of stuff. But not all. For example, translated Bible text. Translating the Bible into something that isn’t Latin. Right, translating the Bible into the vernacular, into English, into Spanish, et cetera is something the Inquisition is more scared of than anything and there is a lovely version of the Index, which we have here in our exhibit, where it specifies in the front matter that if you read any portion of scripture translated into a vernacular language at any point, you are instantaneously damned without the possibility of redemption or confession. So then when they need to, when they find things that they’re like, is it the Bible, they don’t know what to do. So there’s this amazing case where we have eight months of documentation about this napkin. This napkin which was imported from England to the Caribbean and it’s got words on it in English. And it’s got pictures of people doing things. Is it Bible verses in English? And they’re terrified that it might be Bible verses in English so they spend months trying to figure it out, because they don’t dare read it, because if they read it, they’re instantaneously damned without the possibility of redemption. And also, they don’t read English and they don’t trust anyone who does read English, because they’re all Protestants, right? So they spent forever trying to figure out how to figure out whether they need to censor this napkin. There are eight copies of this napkin. We have reams of documents about the man hours that went into, it was the life of Lord Mayor of London. It was perfectly innocuous, tedious moral value. But they poured their energy into this and that’s another matter that’s very relevant for this question which is manpower is an issue for all of these censoring bodies. Manpower is always an issue. Manpower is expensive; it’s one of their biggest expenses. It’s why automated censorship is so appealing to people in the modern day who can do this with a much cheaper way and smaller staff. But to continue on the manpower issue, she gave the answer that modern day people who plumb the internet for dangerous materials often have psychological problems as a result and that there are interviews and studies which are very interesting on that subject, but the manpower issue is a fascinating one because they have limited manpower. They have to decide how to use it, ’cause if they’re gonna use it on the things they consider most important. And they’re using it on this napkin and they’re not using it on the works of Voltaire. And that tells you what their priorities are. Again it helps us diagnose what’s happening. And they also have limited budgets a lot of the time. So especially if you’re looking at bits with the Italian Inquisition. The Italian Inquisition often, you have local inquisitors early on especially in the 16th century. You’ll have your local Dominican monks whose job it is to police what’s happening in a city. And there’s a dozen of them and they have a limited budget and there are 20,000 people in this city who are doing all sorts of things. And they get lots of denunciations and notes from people accusing each other of being a witch and they have to investigate this stuff and they don’t have their own executioners and they don’t have their own jail and they don’t have their own torturers. The Inquisition has these when somebody thinks they should and gives them the money to do this. So that when we talk about the infamy of the Spanish Inquisition in compared to other iterations of the Inquisition, what makes it very dangerous is that the crown of Spain gives it a huge budget and lots of resources to do whatever it wants to do. But the Italian Inquisition where the local state is usually not all that enthusiastic about having this semi-external body operating will be on a shoestring and when they want to arrest somebody, they have to go to the local police and the local Lord in charge of the police and say, will you please arrest this person and give us jail cell time and give us torture chamber time and give us record-keepers to write this down on expensive parchment et cetera to try this person. And there are only so many times per year that the Duke will say yes to this expensive and annoying [XX] ‘Cause torture chambers were done on a timeshare basis. And so you’ll see them picking and choosing what to go after and sometimes it’ll be something where the person that’s been denounced is a courtier of a person that the Duke doesn’t like. And then the Duke will go all out and throw money at this case and facilitate a big expensive, a long elaborate trial, but that happens when the source of the funding benefits. When the source of the funding doesn’t benefit they’ll say, no, you tried two people last month. It was expensive, you only get one this month. When the Inquisition is on a shoestring and so how the budget works and how much the censors have the support of larger sources of income, whether the sources of income are the state, or corporations that are interested to pay a lot of money to this, has a lot to do with whether they can be effective and how much. But in general, they will never have enough manpower to do all the policing they would like to do. And in Orwell, the only way the administrative truth can operate the way it does, is like a third of the population are employed as full-time employees of the Ministry of Truth because otherwise, you can’t possibly maintain this system. So, looking at manpower limitations and how a body spends its limited man hours is one of the ways we learn, not the cleaned goal of this organization, but the on the ground goal of this organization. ‘Cause if you read the opening page of what the Inquisition says it’s for, in it’s index, it doesn’t say it’s for policing napkins with pictures of the Lord Mayor of London and that it isn’t for policing Voltaire. That’s what you learn from examining the man hours question.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, well that makes a lot of sense, wow. There’s a great book, I’m not sure whether it’s on our reading list or not, I’m blanking on the author’s name, but it’s about the relationship between printers and Inquisitors actually in Spain, where the Inquisition was relatively effective, right?
[Ada Palmer] Affluent.
[Adrian Johns] And it turns out that even in Spain where the inquisitors are largely city-based and they stay in the one place, but the craft of printing involves as part of its culture, moving from place to place. A printer’s apprentice, or newly graduated apprentices, routinely go out on the road and they walk to the next city or they walk to a city in France or something like that. The result of this is that these journeymen printers in Spain often know much more about what the Inquisition is doing than the actual inquisitors do because they’re able to go to the next town and say, oh look the Inquisition in Toledo has decided it’s going to mount a campaign against Lutherans. And so the printers in Madrid know before the inquisitors in Madrid know that there’s going to be a campaign against Lutherans. And so it’s yeah, I wish I could remember the name of it. I’ll have to look it up, but it’s really sort of interesting and it gets to this thing which I hope we’re gonna do where you get as it were, behind the veil of rather kind of fantasy images of Orwellian, sort of Nazi superhero censorship systems that we’ve grown up with from the 20th century. And dig in and see sort of how these things actually operated with all of their compromises and the the worries about budget and do we have enough people and we’ve only got two licensors and we’ve gotta deal with London. And the negotiations you have to with rival versions of policing and questions of access. This is actually very interesting, so I’m not sure what this was like in Italy or Spain, but in London, if you were a standard constable in the 16th, 17th, 18th century, you couldn’t just walk into somebody’s house. This is one of those big issues that eventually becomes, sort of blows up in the American Revolution with general warrants. You can’t just walk into somebody’s house, but there is a rule that the London Guild have officers who can go into the houses of people who are exercising a certain trade. What that means is, that in practice the kind of surveillance on which any affected policing of the book trade depends, can only be done through the practitioners of the book trade themselves, because the constables don’t have access to the places where it’s going on.
[Ada Palmer] How neat.
[Adrian Johns] So it’s completely dependent on sort of self-interested actors and their self-policing structure. But that’s completely invisible if you just look at the level of things like statutes and histories of doctrine and all that kind of thing. One of the things, but that to me is kind of an incredibly telling detail, like the detail about the manpower concerns. And the fact that you have to timeshare your torture chambers. I think that out of these eight or 10 weeks what I really want to understand is that kind of thing.
[Ada Palmer] Yeah, and bringing those kinds of examples from all different corners of stuff. You’ve reminded me of a larger sort of claim that I keep coming back to at least in the context of pre-modern censorship that I look at over and over which is again a solution to the manpower issue. The vast majority of all censorship is self-censorship. But that doesn’t mean it’s self-initiated self-censorship. Because what these censoring bodies are good at is scaring people into restraining their own speech. Two licensors in charge of the city of London can’t keep up, but a bunch of statutes saying you have to have licenses in the presence of two licensors in the city of London and a couple of big showy trials can totally transform what everyone in the city of London chooses to write and chooses to try to publish. One question that people often bring up in the context of major infamous censoring efforts such as the USSR’s censoring effort or indeed the Inquisition, is did it succeed? Or did it fail? And if you use as the metric, did it obliterate the idea it was targeting, you would always come up with fail in almost all situations. Very few censoring efforts ever, since the development of print, have succeeded in eradicating all forms of a thing. So let’s look at the trial of Galileo, for example. Did it succeed? Well certainly we all think that the earth goes around the sun, so in that sense, no. But the condemnation of Galileo made Descartes withdraw from publication a treatise of radical philosophy he was about to publish and sit there for years revising it and making it much, much, much more Catholically orthodox before putting it out. And it’s Descartes work that’s the foundation of later work that’s the foundation of later work that influences all Western-derived thought. So in that sense, it succeeded. It transformed what happened through causing self-censorship and so similarly our Inquisitors on a budget. They’re gonna use their budget on one or two big, showy trials and making sure everyone knows about it. And they’re gonna spend their manpower publishing pamphlets about the trial to make sure everyone knows about it, so that people self-censor and you see this operating in the USSR; you see this operating under the Comics Code; you see this all over. The censoring body can’t police everything, but they can saturate everything with fear. And a lot of their activities are dedicated pretty clearly to filling the world with reminders of their power. So in our exhibit, you can see Conrad Gessner’s Encyclopedia of Animals from the second half of the 16th century, which is a big encyclopedia, lots of pictures of lizards and frogs and elephants. And they’re wonderful pictures. And by every one he has a little note saying, and I want to thank the learned and excellent doctor so and so who sent me this picture of a lizard. Now Gessner is a Protestant, which means the Inquisition has to look at this and say whether Catholics are allowed to have this book by a Protestant or not. And they look at it and they say, yes you may have it. It is an encyclopedia of animals. It is not theological in nature, it is allowed, but they say, every time he thanks the learned and excellent doctor so and so, if doctor so and so is Protestant, you must cross out learned and excellent. Because Protestants aren’t learned and excellent. Protestants are bad and wrong. So, that has to be there and they spend man hours doing this; they spend hundreds of man hours going through his encyclopedia of animals crossing out learned and excellent. This is madness. If your goal is eradicating information. But what does it do? It means every time anyone sits down with that encyclopedia on every page there’s a little black line which sends that little chill through your heart reminding you there is a power. It let me have this book. It could have not let me have this book. If I write a thing that power will oversee that thing too. It spreads this culture of fear and the consciousness that you are in the power of this organization and that is what that use of man hours really accomplishes. Again, the vast majority of censorship is self-censorship, but the majority of self-censorship is not generated by the self, it’s generated by an external body that has taken action to cultivate this. Did you want to respond before we take a question?
[Cory Doctorow] I wanna chime in here just briefly if I may about the real politic of censorship especially in the digital world. One of the things that monopoly power, or near-monopoly power, by internet entities has done is made censorship much more possible than it might have been if there was a much more diverse marketplace. For example, the UK has six major ISPs and if all six of them can be made to agree to voluntarily undertake some rule, then that becomes indistinguishable from state censorship. You know there’s the old Lily Tomlin joke, we’re the phone company, we don’t have to care. We see that played out at the platform level as well, where Apple has made it illegal and technologically very hard to install software on iPhones that haven’t been blessed by Apple. And this created a natural target for would-be censors. And so a condition of Apple operating in China for example, is that it must not operate any privacy tools that the Chinese government doesn’t have a back door for, so that the Chinese government can spy on everything Apple does. Now if it were very easy to install third-party software on an iPhone, there would be no reason to take this measure, but the fact that it’s so hard and that it’s illegal in most countries to even develop a tool to let you accomplish that has made it a very attractive target. It’s a bit like Chekhov and the gun on the mantelpiece in act one, it’s very definitely gonna go off by act three. You can also see this reflected in government mandates about what Google must and mustn’t show. You know if you search for information about jihad and suicide bombing, you must only find critical information and not positive information. Wherever there’s concentration, there’s always a censor standing next to that entity saying, nice monopoly you’ve got here. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.
[Ada Palmer] You’re reminding me of the incident with Amazon and Hachette. You know, a private company can implement whatever policy it wants. Apple could tomorrow implement a policy that they will not have anything with an image of a dog. And that would be perfectly legal, because they’re not a government, but no Apple product could ever display an image of a dog again. Now, they’re not going to do this, just as New Zealand is not enforcing it’s blasphemous libel law, because nobody cares. But when you have near-monopoly penetration, you can do what Amazon did to Hachette a few years ago when there was a legal battle between Amazon and the big five publishers over the price of e-books and Hachette would not capitulate to Amazon’s demands. And Amazon changed it’s search engine so that if you searched for a Hachette book on Amazon instead it would pop a book on the same topic from a rival publisher or a book in the same genre if it’s fiction from a rival publisher. This is perfectly legal because Amazon is a private company, but Amazon is also the only place anyone ever searches for books, just about. Barnes & Nobel’s website is the sort of one resistance movement and it’s weird calling a giant chain corporation a resistance movement, but when you’re comparing the scales of things, it is.
– I’ve lost track, Barnes & Noble may not exist by now. It’s been in trouble the last decade.
[Ada Palmer] But it meant that for months, Hachette was cut off from Amazon, which means more than 40% of all book sales. But there is nothing that makes this censorship under the law. That’s what the kind of monopolistic practices that Cory is talking about are. Now, Adrian, do you want to say anything? And then we’re nearly out of time for this week, but we have many more weeks.
[Adrian Johns] – This is kind of to support point about self-censorship. In England where I deal with, there wasn’t an index and so you don’t quite have that culture of explicating line by line. There was a licensing system and then later there was the libel system. The thing about the licensing system though, is that and I don’t know what the numbers for this are on the continent, but it’s very hard to figure out the numbers concretely even for England where the survival rates are actually not that bad, but it seems like the proportion of books that was ever actually licensed was about 30%. Which means that roughly 70% of books people just chanced it. They thought well, we don’t want to bother with the licensing, we’ll just do it. Probably most books are inoffensive, they’re never going to attract attention and they appear and they’re gone very fast. Authors like to think that books last forever. You know we think it’s great that we have copyright that’s like four lifetimes long, because people will still be reading my book when I’m 250 years old. But the fact is that almost no book actually outlasts a few weeks. Anyway, but the fact that something like 70% of books, as far as we can tell, were not licensed in England doesn’t mean that the licensing system only affects the 30% of books that are licensed. The effect of it is very likely to be much more pervasive and much harder to track than that. I mean it’s hard to track the numbers, but it’s even harder to track something like the effects of a licensing system. So I think this is true and yeah, I think Ada’s right about self-censorship.
[Ada Palmer] Any final thoughts for today, Cory?
[Cory Doctorow] No, I think that this is been a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation of exactly the sort that we were hoping for. I’ll be there in person next week and I’m looking forward to that.
[Ada Palmer] Perfect, thank you so much for putting with that.
Thank you, thank you very much.
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