What is Chokepoint Capitalism?

Why copyright alone can’t unrig creative labor markets.

Cory Doctorow
8 min readAug 21, 2022

--

A middle school doorway. Three cigarette-smoking hoodlums block it from a small schoolboy, seen from behind, carrying a backpack.
Buffalo Police Department/Public Domain (modified); Erik B. Anderson/CC BY-SA 4.0 (modified)

Chokepoint Capitalism is my next book, co-written with the brilliant copyright scholar Rebecca Giblin. It’s a book about how the markets for creative labor were rigged, and how artists, fans, tinkerers, regulators and lawmakers can unrig them.

That second part is key: this isn’t just a book complaining about how tough things are for artists — it’s a book about how we can make things better.

There’s an obvious reason that our book’s focus on shovel-ready projects to put more money in artists’ pockets is important: you’d have to be a monster to prefer a world that underpays the writers, musicians, actors, and film and TV creators whose work heartens and delights you.

The cover for the Beacon Press edition of Chokepoint Capitalism.

But there’s another reason that this focus on fixing creative labor markets is so important: because copyright, the primary tool we’ve given creators to give them power over their labor, has actually made things worse.

To understand what I mean, consider an analogy.

Say that every morning, you tuck $5 into your kid’s jacket pocket to buy lunch, but when your kid gets to the school doors, there’s a group of tough bullies who take away his $5. Every day, he goes hungry.

Giving your kid $10 won’t get him lunch! It’ll just make the bullies richer!

No matter how much money you give your kid, the bullies will take it. If they get rich enough, they can even bribe the principal to look the other way, and hire associates to staff their “toll booth” from dawn to dusk, so no kids sneak past them early in the morning.

That’s chokepoint capitalism. Giant companies corral an audience, locking them in through “digital rights management” (which locks all the media you buy to a platform controlled by the seller), or by subscription fees, or through exclusive deals with venues or radio stations, or by buying out any company that tries to compete with them, or by starving these upstart competitors by selling at a loss whenever a new company starts up, so they can’t gain…

--

--

Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr