Predicting the present in Cory Doctorow’s “Pirate Cinema”

Cory Doctorow is coming through town again, this time on his tour for Homeland, the sequel to his excellent young adult novel Little Brother. Cory likes to talk about how his fiction “predicts the present”: taking the bits of future that are already here, just not yet evenly distributed, and applying them more widely. It’s a neat trick that makes his sci-fi seem eerily prescient, and I know Little Brother has been boosted by supporters of Occupy who saw much of their story foretold in his writing.

In another of Cory’s young adult books, the recent Pirate Cinema, much of the plot focuses on draconian copyright enforcement systems and backlash. Of course, there’s a rich history to pull from: the battles over SOPA and ACTA were just the latest in a long narrative that Cory has been engaged with for years. His “Theft of Intellectual Property Bill (TIP)” might have been fiction, but it’s a logical extension of what we’ve already seen.

Combine predicting the present with some old-fashioned coincidence, and things start to get spooky. Take Cory’s “Jimmy Preston,” who in Pirate Cinema gets a then-unprecedented five-year prison term for sharing music files. Cory writes:

But he’d collected 450,000 songs on his hard drive through endless, tedious, tireless hours of downloading. From what anyone could tell, he didn’t even listen to them: he just liked cataloging them, correcting their metadata, organizing them.

Compare that to the real-life Jeremiah Perkins, who just a few months after Pirate Cinema‘s release was also sentenced to five years for filesharing. According to a report prepared on behalf ot the movie studios, his group iMAGINE was well-known for “their consistently good quality of audio captures” and “their high volume of releases”.

I hope that Jeremiah Perkins doesn’t face the same ultimate fate as Cory’s Jimmy Preston, who didn’t do well in prison. Even more importantly, I hope we don’t see more jailtime for filesharers.

When the book came out, I saw at least one review that said the action was too over-the-top, the law too excessive, the studio groups too vindictive to possibly reflect reality. Detractors should take note: when the book came out, the mainstream probably wouldn’t believe a five-year sentence for file-sharing. Then it happened. Cory’s good at predicting the present.