A world where every word is copyrighted and your speech is charged per word!

I’m not a particularly big fan of young adult fiction, as in I do not pick them up consciously, but I do enjoy the occasional titles as well, like The Hunger Games. I had recently read a review of Gregory Scott Katsoulis’ Access Restricted and got very curious about the first book in the series (of two), All Rights Reserved. The crux (world building, since this is speculative/futuristic/science fiction) seemed preposterous to me initially, but I persisted and got the book. As a marketing and communications professional, I highly recommend the book for the sheer breadth of imagination!

Consider the premise: In the future, almost every word and gesture is copyrighted and people are charged for every word they utter! Yes, that sounds like a massive stretch over current copyright laws, but this is speculative fiction, after all! I was put off with this stretch, but I persisted with the book anyway. Thankfully.

The premise goes: if every word and gesture use is charged on people, they’d have to earn that much to be able to pay so often (in small amounts) all through the day as they speak. But people don’t earn so much. The next best way to make them pay is to offer them advertising to watch and consume, in lieu of word usage! So, subsidized word use charges!

Word and gesture use is tracked by a device called ‘cuff’ that everybody is mandated to wear by the governing authorities. The cuff tracks everything about users, in real-time – word usage, physical changes (blood pressure, heart-rate etc.). When your blood pressure rises, the cuff shows you advertisements for medicines and services to bring it down. If you go too close to a bridge (where people have jumped from to commit suicide in the past), the cuff activates ads on the bridge’s display screens that feature happy bunnies that dance and beg you to not jump!

People’s eyes have an implant that lets the cuffs control eyes and what people view. If they remove the cuffs (which is very difficult!), the eyes will pain and they cannot see many things that require a T&C acceptance.

Screens are everywhere in town. As you walk past them, they identify you in real-time and play ads relevant to you!

Kids under 15 can say anything they want without copyright fees, but once they turn 15, they have to announce that by speaking a pre-written speech, usually dictated by a set of brands that sponsor that kid, now an adult according to copyright laws. Those brands sponsor and subsidize a lot of stuff for the kids. People deliberately add names of their sponsors in their everyday speech to further get subsidies!

All these are massive stretches over current technologies and processes too, but unlike charging for every word, these ring scarily close to what we already have. For example, our phones and laptops have cookies to track us and offer us contextual ads. Influencers on social media utter brand names and talk about brands that pay them.

But this world goes further in building itself!

Food is printed in this world, using home printers and economy-plan food is what’s affordable to masses! That amounts to energy bars of various kinds, and more expensive food (including actually cooked food) is only for the rich. 3D printing is rampant and buildings and most structures in the city are 3D printed. When you need to enter any building, the entrance will ask you to accept the building’s terms and conditions – you need to accept to enter!

And the best part, or the worst part – people can be penalized for pirating or illegally downloading copyrighted material by their grandparents, great grandparents and anyone in the family history in any period in history! It can even be just one song! The penalty is not jail term but a sentence in farms where they need to do the job of honey bees – manually pollinating flowers! Because honey bees are extinct!

The most interesting part of the premise is this – if every word is charged, how would a person protest against the system? That’s what the book’s lead character does in a mighty inventive manner (that I thought was first very easy, but the act gets progressively and massively complicated) and its repercussions form most of the book’s narrative.

It’s like reading Black Mirror extended severely to multiple new directions! I highly recommend this book to marketers and communicators, even if you are not fans of science/speculative fiction. The future it builds and the innovative ways people subvert the system are enough to challenge your thinking and keep you engrossed.

I read the first book on Audible, as an audiobook (haven’t bought printed books in many years, barring rare exceptions) and I’m definitely planning to catch up with the sequel.

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