Vision Machine isn’t just a new piece of sci-fi fiction from writer (Incredible Hulks), and filmmaker (Robot Stories) Greg Pak; it’s also something of a social statement, with Pak through his Pak Man Productions banner releasing the book under a Creative Commons license. “[I] figured that a project like this—that deals with issues of copyright and trademark—should be released under those kind of conditions,” Pak explained to MTV Geek during an interview at the 2010 New York Comic Con. Indeed, if there’s one message being aimed at readers of this three-issue miniseries is to read your EULA.
The series follows the arc of progress and exploitation when Sprout Computers—a stand-in for Apple in the year 2061—releases the “iEye” device: a pair of glasses which allow users to record, manipulate, and send video content to the global network of iEye users. The bulk of the narrative in the series’ first two issues focuses on a trio of friends and aspiring filmmakers—Jane, Buddy, and Dave—and how the new technology impacts them individually, and society as a whole. It, in essence, makes the usually unsexy issue of copyright a social and moral challenge as increasingly we’re all becoming content creators in this connected world of ours. What if you were able to license a Sinatra tune for your indie film project for only $50? Sound good? Well, what if the same license holders were able to charge you for every time you hummed, whistled, or maybe even thought of the same tune?
And so it goes: new technology becomes a new challenge, and the legal and ethical ramifications of “open access” to content creates new issues with regard to unrestricted speech and communication. Of the three friends, each profits and becomes imperiled by the iEye in some way, with Buddy acting as kind of the nexus for both the good and the bad of the technology. Initially skeptical, he then embraces the iEye, and later finds himself targeted for dissident thought against the technology. Jane, meanwhile, becomes a global celebrity thanks to her ability to create and realize things using the device in ways that others can’t. It also means she quickly becomes an employee and in some unclear way, hitwoman for the Sprout corporation. Dave is somewhere in between, struggling to create new film pieces using the iEye, but getting caught up on the licensing tricks and tactics that make it easy for the Sprout Corporation to co-opt and outright take his footage from him.
The book inevitably becomes a thriller (it’s rare that high concept sci-fi stories not go that route) and the story becomes largely about those outside of the systems of corporate and federal governance trying to keep speech free: rebels versus the techno monolith. Where the book excels is in working as a fascinating look at a hypothetical future where access to information becomes the highest commodity.
So where does Mr. Pak stand on the issue of opening access to content? Well, according to him, “There are incredible opportunities here. And it’s up to us as creators, readers, and retailers to be smart about it.”
Take a look at the full first issue of Vision Mahcine!
And check out the rest of our interview with Greg Pak from the 2010 New York Comic Con in which he discusses The Incredible Hulks, Planet Hulk and Chaos War!