It's a reasonable point, but the examples he gave need a bit more qualification. When radio stations started playing records, they reached a deal whereby the record labels got a performance fee - sourced from the ad revenue that the radio stations gathered. That the record companies started seeing radio as a means of selling the records only sharpened the negotiation around that final fee.
Doctorow is focusing on one side of the argument at the expense of the other one here: Yes - the new technologies that make it easier to create, distribute and share content are adding value to humanity. I totally understand his argument about the absurdity of the Hollywood major studios vetoing the development of YouTube.
But there are winners from all of this. Twenty years ago, we bought one TV set a decade on average and maybe a VCR every five years (OK - there's no research behind that, but you know what I mean....).
Today, a huge amount of hardware sales are driven by the fact that it's possible to freely or cheaply appropriate content in ways that weren't foreseen when the original licence was drafted. My Humax PVR allows me to record a whole series, in HD and fast-forward though the adverts. I'm getting a great deal more utility out of TV programmes now - and avoiding some of the payment mechanisms (ad-dodging) because someone has marketed a new box. New formats allow us to watch old content in better ways and as a result, more TVs, PVRs, DVD, BlueRay, iPad, PCs and games consoles are bought.
Hardware manufacturers are making hundreds of $billions out of our ability to 'pirate' existing content.
Many consumers are also paying Virgin or BSkyB to deliver that content to them as well using their proprietary hardware. iPods and iPhones are sold with three-figure price-tags because we can use them to watch content - on terms not foreseen by the original licences.
And the response of cyber-evangelists? Renegotiate those contracts perhaps? No. Just break them unilaterally.
And here's where the last post here - about 'incumbents' comes in. The Hargreaves Report on copyright has made lots of the kind of points that regulars here will be familiar with - the distortion of public policy by powerful pressure groups. But the real incumbents in public policy around copyright aren't the rightsholders. It's the rightsholders who also have a large stake in the hardware markets.
Hardware levies are not discussable in the UK because BSkyB have a veto over what is discussed. There is no clearer illustration of Hargreaves' point about the way this issue is discussed, though you wouldn't believe it from the way that this point has been widely interpreted.
I've never been given the first inkling as to why people moaning about the rigidity of piracy legislation aren't jumping up and down about the need for a small hardware levy. It would set everything right between themselves and existing rightsholders - and it could easily be paid for in full from a fraction of the hardware profits that are being made at the moment.