January 2022

Copyright means you can’t tweak how a Web page appears on your screen, according to media giant

Advertising is one of the commonest ways of financing Web sites and services. There’s nothing wrong with that, at least in principle. But the fact that, according to one estimate, 42% of Internet users worldwide employ an ad blocker to remove those ads from their screens is a clear sign that something is seriously wrong. …

How to make money from scarcity, in a world of digital abundance

The current crisis in the copyright world is being driven by the once-in-a-civilisation transition from an analogue world to a digital one. Initially the copyright industries fought the Internet and the massive shifts it brought with it, lobbying for laws like the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act that tried to make digital water unwet. Belatedly, …

Rock star worth $450 million wins copyright case against widow who offered bootleg CD for €9.95

As the very first post on this blog pointed out, copyright is fundamentally unsuited to the digital world. It assumes that copying material is hard, and can therefore only be carried out by larger organisations. As a consequence, punishments for copyright infringement are extreme, since they are calibrated to dissuade even well-funded groups from making …

Guest post | How a politicians’ thesis could affect a country’s scientific culture

The president of the Colombian House of Representatives, Congresswoman Jennifer Arias, allegedly plagiarised parts of her master’s thesis. The Colombian Universidad Externado explained in a recent press release that journalists are denied access to the thesis based on copyright concerns. This is a case of public interest, since the validity of the academic degree of …

From paywalled academic publishing towards free, fast and frictionless sharing of knowledge

As a post back in November explained, copyright is key to the business model of academic publishing. By pushing researchers to assign their copyright to publishers, the latter are able to erect and defend paywalls around academic work that has generally been paid for by the public. Expensive subscriptions are one way that academic publishers …

What has copyright got to do with the Tiananmen Square massacre?

Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy a special “one country, two systems” approach for 50 years after it was handed back to China by the UK in 1997. It’s clear now that the Chinese authorities have no intention of waiting that long. After the Hong Kong national security law was passed in 2020, Beijing has …

Remembering Aaron Swartz, who died on this day, a victim of the copyright system

On this day in 2013, Aaron Swartz died by his own hand, at the age of 26. His short but full life as a hacker and activist is summed up well on Wikipedia – one of the many projects he was involved with. It is widely believed that Swartz hanged himself because he faced the …

How the financialisation of music could lead to demands for perpetual copyright

Back in October, this blog noted the huge amounts of money pouring into music copyrights, largely driven by the global rise of online streaming. Since then, that trend has continued, most notably with Bruce Springsteen’s sale of his recordings and songwriting catalogue to Sony, for a rumoured $550 million. As we pointed out in the …

It took a 15-year fight to be allowed to use an existing DRM exception: who still thinks copyright is fair?

In his Walled Culture interview, Cory Doctorow explains cogently why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is such a disaster. It’s also pointless: DRM can always be broken, and once there is one unprotected copy out on the Internet, the material with DRM effectively become an inferior, hobbled version. The copyright companies reacted to this fact in …

Public Domain Day is here again: it should be an occasion for condemnation, not celebration

Once copyright’s walls come down, creative material enters the public domain. It is free for all to use, modify and build upon. It is part of the matrix from which future creativity springs. One of the best places to explore it and its importance is the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at …

 

December 2021

Why environmental non-governmental organizations – and everyone else – should go green (open access)

Open access (OA) – making academic research freely available to all – seems self-evidently a great idea. It’s good for the public, which gains access to work it has funded, and it’s good for researchers, as knowledge about their research reaches a far wider audience than it would trapped behind a publisher’s paywall. Open access …

US publishers sue to stop a new law requiring them to offer ebooks at a “reasonable” price to libraries

Yohanna Anderson has just written eloquently about ebook price-gouging by publishers. As she notes, this is not just a UK problem, but affects many countries around the world. In the US, the situation is so serious that various states there have proposed legislation that requires publishers to license ebooks on “reasonable terms”. A post on …

The copyright industry wants everything filtered as it is uploaded; here’s why that will be a disaster

The history of copyright can be seen as one of increasing control by companies over what ordinary people can do with material created by others. For the online world, the endgame is where copyright holders get to check and approve every single file that is uploaded, with the power to block anything they regard as …

Guest post | #ebooksos crisis: price gouging publishers

Despite only 10% of university reading list items being available in ebook format, “everything is available in E-format” is a sentence librarians hear often. In the so-called digital age, you cannot blame people for making this assumption. However, ebooks have long been problematic for librarians due to lack of availability. The ebooks that do exist …

A few companies dominate the music market; meet the rising giant that could beat them all: Spotify

Back in September, a blog post noted that Universal Music Group (UMG) regarded streaming as key to its future. Investors agreed, pushing the company’s valuation to 45 billion euros (over $50 billion) when it made its IPO. If streaming is good for UMG, it will be even better for the company that re-invented the idea: …

Another example of how the playing field is tilted in favour of copyright owners

It’s widely known that artists of all kinds often get a raw deal from the contracts they sign.  But this kind of legal unfairness is not the only danger they face: copyright can also be turned against creators in other, illegal ways.  For example, according to a report on MarketWatch: Two men have been charged …

How to add much-needed zest to copyright: treating creators fairly by leaving them in control

One theme that is appearing more frequently both here on Walled Culture, and in wider coverage of the copyright world, is the idea that creators should remain in control of their own works.  Recent posts have underlined that currently this is far from being the case: creators of all kinds are routinely expected to hand …

Singapore starts making its copyright law fit for the digital world; others need to follow its example

The Walled Culture blog is principally about the ways in which outdated copyright is preventing the full potential of the digital world to be realised.  As such, its posts tend to be rather critical.  Happily, there are signs that some countries are beginning to realise that their copyright law needs to be radically revised, and …

Why are Taylor Swift and academics all in the same boat? And why is she more fortunate?

Last week a blog post explained why academics have lost control of their own papers, and what they can do about it. This might seem a rather limited problem, down to the unworldly nature of many researchers, who perhaps lack the necessary cunning to negotiate fair contracts with academic publishers, or who need to publish …

 

November 2021

Cultural digitisation for the many, or cultural depredation for the few: time to choose

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian had a report on what it called the “growing market for cultural digitisation” carried out by museums and art galleries: Museums around the world are increasingly capitalising on the intellectual property of their priceless pieces, in unexpected collaborations from luxury lingerie to KFC packaging. China is leading this …

The film industry effectively solved the problem of unauthorised downloads; now it is “unsolving” it…

Copyright companies frequently invoke “piracy” when they demand new legislation or stronger enforcement of existing laws. Usually, they have a free hand to claim what they like about these “pirates” and their motivation – we rarely hear from the latter about why they do it. That makes a post on TorrentFreak particularly interesting. It’s a …

Can Nigeria lead the way in modernising outdated copyright laws through expanded exceptions?

When people talk and write about copyright, they generally mean US or EU laws. It’s true that most recent developments in the field – notably many bad ones – have taken place in these two geographic regions. But the dynamics among nations is changing. First came the BRIC group – Brazil, Russia, India, and China …

Rights retention: one small step for academics, one giant leap for global access to knowledge

A few weeks ago, we wondered whether academic publishers might try to shut down the amazing General Index of scientific journals that Carl Malamud has created. There’s a precedent for this kind of legal action against a site providing a service of great benefit to society. Publishers have been trying to shut down the Sci-Hub …

Giant Penguin attack: why the US courts should block a publishing mega-merger

This blog has written recently about the disproportionate power wielded by YouTube in both the video streaming sector, and as part of the music industry. Sadly, that is not an isolated problem, as this press release from the US Justice Department makes clear: The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today to …

BookTok shows how fans can power sales; imagine what could be done without copyright anxiety

A little while back, the Guardian covered the rising literary power of BookTok – short videos on TikTok devoted to the pleasures and pains of reading. As well as plenty of background information about the BookTok phenomenon, it has the following perceptive comment from Kat McKenna, a marketing and brand consultant specialising in children’s and …

Adding DRM code to games is hardly fair play: it can slow them down and even stop them from loading

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a strange thing. It is software code that is added to a product without providing any benefit to the user. It is designed to limit the freedom of people to use things they thought they owned – “because copyright”. For this reason, the Free Software Foundation prefers to use the …

Is protecting copyright more important than saving lives during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked terrible suffering across the world, we are fortunate that we already have several vaccines that have been shown to be highly-effective in reducing the number of deaths and hospitalisation rates. Discovering vaccines proved easier than expected, but ensuring that everyone – including people in developing countries – has access …

YouTube is “neck-and-neck with Netflix”, and bigger than the world’s entire recording industry

Everyone knows that Google (strictly speaking, the parent company, Alphabet) is a digital giant. But recent figures reveal that YouTube alone is also enormous, and in two markets: video and music. Alphabet’s third quarter results showed that YouTube ads went from $5 billion to $7.2 billion, year on year. As Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business …

It’s time to end the anti-circumvention exemption circus

Copyright as we know it goes back to the Statute of Anne of 1710. A law that old is clearly going to struggle to cope with the enormous changes in technology that have taken place since then – notably the Internet. But even relatively recent copyright laws were framed in ways that have become unworkable …

Squaring the music streaming circle: fair remuneration for artists, easy discoverability for users

Streaming dominates the recording music industry today, and everyone assumes that things won’t change for a while. But there are two opposing aspects of the current business models for music streaming that are hard to reconcile. On the one hand, the fixed-price approach of Spotify, Apple and Google is great for users who can afford …

Does copyright give companies the right to search your home and computer?

One reason why copyright has become so important in the digital age is that it applies to the software that many of us use routinely on our smartphones, tablets and computers. In order to run those programs, you must have a licence of some kind (unless the software is in the public domain, which rarely …

Do 20 consecutive words deserve copyright protection?

One problem with copyright is that it lasts too long, as an earlier post on this blog explored. But there’s another issue: the fact that copyright protects even very short texts. This was an issue in a recent court case in Sweden, discussed on The IPKat blog. Unusually, perhaps, for a copyright case, it concerned …

 

October 2021

iDon’tLike: why, for the copyright industry, enough is never enough

As Walled Culture noted when it was launched, copyright permeates everything we do online. And yet much of copyright’s workings remain hidden. The laws and court cases may be public, but many of the key business deals and legal manoeuvrings take place behind closed doors. That makes a short Twitter thread by the entrepreneur Ali …

Moving beyond dysfunctional copyright: true fans, and a new middle class for the creator economy

It’s easy pointing out that copyright is deeply dysfunctional: there are new examples of the profound mismatch between this 18th-century law and 21st-century creativity coming to light every day. Much harder is devising alternatives that are not niche solutions, but which have a wide applicability. One of the first people to do this was Kevin …

An unprecedented loss of digital culture looms thanks to copyright; here’s how to avoid it

A few weeks ago, we wrote about copyright’s absurdly long term, which typically lasts for 70 years after a creator’s death. That it makes it hard for other artists to build on the work of their contemporaries, or even on those who were working half a century before. But there’s another, even larger problem caused …

Will publishers try to shut down the free General Index of 107 million scientific journal articles?

One of the exciting possibilities opened up by the digital world is that access to all human knowledge could be made freely available to everyone with an Internet connection. Sadly, most publishers prefer boosting their profits to helping humanity, and have done everything they can to make sure that this possibility is never realised. Despite …

Billions of dollars pour into music copyright “assets”: how much will the creators ever see?

A few weeks ago, this blog reported on the spectacular 45 billion euro valuation of Universal Music Group (UMG) when it went public on Amsterdam’s Euronext exchange. It seems that was just a foretaste of a huge inflow of money to the music industry – and of a fundamental shift in the way music copyrights …

A good copyright ruling from a wise judge means you still don’t need to care what a CDN is or does

Many people are unaware of what a “Content Delivery Network” (CDN) is, or does, even though they probably make use of one hundreds of times a day. And that’s fine: a CDN is just part of the Internet’s plumbing. Typically, it is a global network of computers that “cache” – store copies of – digital …

An artist’s messy divorce shows why copyright shouldn’t be regarded as a kind of property

One of the key themes of Walled Culture is the tension between the 18th-century idea of copyright, and the 21st-century digital world where we spend an increasing proportion of our waking hours. That’s probably the most obvious issue, but there’s another aspect of copyright that is becoming problematic in modern life: the idea that it …

Technological progress + outdated copyright laws = huge swathes of our cinematic culture lost forever

Physical books can be bought, shared, and accessed in libraries quite easily. Films in a physical form, on the other hand, are hard to acquire, share or view in archives. Writing in the Guardian, the non-fiction filmmaker Charlie Shackleton says that 90% of archive collections consist of film prints that will never be seen. Moreover, …

Copyright law discriminating against the blind finally struck down by court in South Africa

Most people would agree that those who are blind or visually impaired deserve all the help they can get. For example, the conversion of printed materials to accessible formats like Braille, large print, or Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY) formats, ought to be easy. Who could possibly object? For years, many publishers did; and the …

Why copyright’s absurdly long term is no big friendly giant to creators and their public

As this blog noted last week, nowadays copyright in a work can easily last more than a century. A recent piece of news shows what that can mean in practice, and why it is so bad for creators and their public. It concerns the well-known children’s author Roald Dahl, who died in 1990. Copyright in …

Longer copyright protection means fewer books are available, and they cost more

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the standard copyright term of life plus 70 years makes no sense: a promise that they’ll be paid after their death is unlike to stimulate extra creativity from artists. Conscious of how weak this argument is as a justification for extremely long copyright, supporters have come up …

Widespread copyright anxiety, leading to copyright chill, means something is deeply wrong

Thirty years ago, copyright law was boring. It was the province of specialised lawyers, and had very little direct impact on ordinary people’s lives. The Internet changed all that. Now, everyone online is affected by copyright, which comes into play whenever people create something in a fixed form, like a post, or when they share …

 

September 2021

ResearchGate: academic publishers forbid scientists from sharing their own papers, because “copyright”

ResearchGate is a social network for scientists, whose ideas seem pretty closely aligned with those of this blog: Our mission is to connect the world of science and make research open to all. The 20 million researchers in our community come from diverse sectors in over 190 countries, and use ResearchGate to connect, collaborate, and …

Until the recording industry’s monopoly power is broken, musicians may need to go independent

We’ve just written about the terrible deal that most musicians get from the increasingly-popular streaming of their music. A post on Boing Boing explores another aspect of the same problem: the fact that musicians aren’t generally paid according to how many people listen to their music on streaming, but according to their share of the …

We don’t have walled culture because of piracy, but because of corporate profiteering

Last week, Universal Music Group (UMG) went public on Amsterdam’s Euronext exchange, and ended up with a valuation of 45 billion euros (over $50 billion). An article on Quartz explained: The strong public debut signaled a win for the recorded music industry, which struggled to maintain revenues and profitability in the early 2000s as physical …

Yet another move to funnel money to big copyright companies, not struggling creators

When modern copyright came into existence in 1710, it gave a monopoly to authors for just 14 years, with the option to extend it for another 14. Today, in most parts of the world, copyright term is the life of the creator, plus 70 years. That’s typically over a hundred years. The main rationale for …

Unleashing the power of online sharing for all: the birth and rise of Creative Commons

Effortless copying lies at the heart of the Internet. As digital data is passed from location to location, copies of it are made at the intersection of the networks that form the Internet (inter-net). Copyright, on the other hand, is designed to control every copy of a creative work, including digital ones. That inherent contradiction …

Breaking down the walls: UK government supporting open science and open research

It’s not just culture that suffers because of walls built by copyright: science, too, has a terrible problem in this regard. In some ways, that’s even worse, since copyright often prevents the free, frictionless flow of information in the form of academic papers, reports, books etc. that will lead to more research and more discoveries. …

Welcome to Walled Culture

The modern world is digital. We meet people online, we buy things online, we deal with the government online. But the digital sphere is not just the latest version of the traditional, analogue world. It is fundamentally different. Once something is digital, it can be copied perfectly and infinitely. That allows digital objects to be …