Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema is an epic dystopian novel of near-future Britain that is about Trent McCauley, who is your average kid, leading a typical sixteen year-old existence when all of a sudden the worst possible thing that could happen to him occurs. Embossed into his memory is the day his family got cut off from the internet. This comes across as a huge catastrophe for the McCauley household. Trent’s family is clearly dependent on the net. His father needs it for his customer representative job, his mother uses it to access her disability money – without it she couldn’t obtain her meds, and his sister needed it to get her top-notch grades in school. But most of all it came at a loss for Trent. The burgeoning film-maker depended on the net to download clips off it in order to reassemble them into his own films. Now because a law some loaded MP passed, the McCauley’s have lost their access to the internet for a year.
And a year for Trent is a lifetime.
Because he couldn’t face his family’s disappointment, Trent decides to leave home. But it was mainly because Trent couldn’t keep his mind off his film. On the back burner of his mind brewed his film still unfinished and waiting for him. Trent was in the middle of an intense editing project but due to the internet being shut down, he could do no further work from home. The scenes yet to be edited stared back at him and it was driving him crazy.
Trent decides to run away to London where he meets a tramp who calls himself, Jem, who goes on to show him the ropes, the ins and outs of being on the lesser side of London society.
Jem and Trent become roommates, squatting in an old pub building that they later dub, Zeroday. They renovate the building, making the site as homey as possible, going on bin hunting for furniture and things to fill the place with.
Other than the routine skip checks for food, Jem and their roommates have little to do. They start to haunt this forum called the Confusing Peach, which hosts discussions and any number of raging pop up parties around London.
Trent and his roommates become regulars of the site. On one particular night, Trent meets 26 at a cinema night that is hosted at the cemetery. 26 has been doing Pirate Cinema for a while, setting up and hosting film screenings at the graveyard when she meets Trent.
Trent introduces himself as Cecil B. Devil inspired by his hero Cecil B. DeMille. Trent has now entered a world where everyone has a handle like Rapid Dog or 26.
As Trent gets to know more about 26, his interest in Pirate Cinema grows.
He goes to a meeting that absolutely blows his mind about piracy wars. The meeting was over the Theft of Intellectual Property Bill that if passed would prohibit mash-up artists, remix artists, and downloaders off the internet.
Trent, who was originally from the small northern town of Bradford, is suddenly brimming with ideas of how to turn the tables.
Trent wants to do something when the bill lands to fight back. When a box filled with USB sticks falls practically right at his feet, a plan forms. He plans to hand them out with his very own version of a popular blockbuster film out on opening night in Leicester Square.
To avoid exposure from CCTVs, their very own tech guy, Aziz, hooks them up with “strings of miniature infrared LEDs, little pinhead things that we painstakingly stitched around the brims” of hats.
The plan goes out without a hitch, but pretty soon the movement gets bigger with more people supporting “TIP-Ex,” which is named after Tipp-Ex, “the correction fluid you used to cover mistakes with ink” that if named a law will over-ride all the damage that went down when the Theft of Intellectual Property Bill was passed.
Having spoken at events at Pirate Cinema, Trent becomes the poster boy behind TIP-Ex, and pretty soon he is speaking at turnouts, rallying forces behind the new bill. Eventually, the big guns have found Trent to be too much of a threat and have issued him a lawsuit of the amount of £78 million for copyright infringement.
Downtrodden after the judge orders him off the internet for a gruesome two weeks, Trent is rallied by his friends when he shows them his latest film project. A lightbulb flashes in Jem’s mind after seeing the film and the friends devise a plan to project the film on side of Parliament to curtail the brevity of votes which have been predicted to go against passing the landmark bill.
Will TIP-Ex pass, giving artists the branch of creativity they need away from the greedy hands of big corporations? Will Trent have to pay all £78 million for copyright infringement? How will he get his hands on all that money? What will Trent do if he gets thrown into prison for doing something he loved?
But one thing remains: nothing will stop Trent from making films.
Pirate Cinema is a sweeping sci-fi dystopia teen novel that covers copyright infringement and whether there is a limit to creativity – if these big film or music labels have the right to toss out their rightful competition.
A heavy book filled with dense material on the laws involved, the novel is a realistic read that talks about copyright infringement with enthused candor.
Trent’s life is impacted by all walks of life, from tramps, artists, and activists, we see all sorts of perspectives from the rougher places in London to those who wine and dine in the nine’s, who gets impacted by these laws.
Imagine yourself in Trent’s shoes, if your internet was shut down for a year, what would you do? I myself am not a filmmaker, but I find myself commiserating with Trent’s actions of running away to London and starting a brand new life there just so that he could continue making films.
Trent shows us that if you’re passionate about something, you must follow your dreams. From the opening of the book to the very close, Trent never stops making films. He shows us to always fight for what you believe in.
Pirate Cinema is a truly inspirational book.