November 2022

Digital books do wear out – just like digital music, digital films and video games

There’s a great post by Brewster Kahle on the Internet Archive blog with the title “Digital Books wear out faster than Physical Books“. He makes an important point about the work involved in providing and preserving digital books: The Internet Archive processes and reprocesses the books it has digitized as new optical character recognition technologies …

If Twitter goes down in flames, what happens to its huge and historically important collection of tweets?

This blog has just written about the likely loss of a very particular kind of culture – K-pop live streams. Culture is culture, and a loss is a loss. But potentially we are facing the disappearance of a cultural resource that is indisputably more important. I’m talking about Twitter, and its vast store of tweets …

Top EU court’s advisor points out that geoblocks can be easily circumvented: time to get rid of them

One of the central ideas of both Walled Culture the blog and Walled Culture the book is that copyright simply doesn’t work in the digital world. One proof of that fact can be found in the ridiculous concept of geoblocks. This is the idea that you can carve up the Internet according to geography, such …

V Live, the largest archive of K-pop live streams, will soon be V Dead: what happens to all that culture?

When people speak of culture, and preserving it, they usually mean the works of recognised artistic giants like Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charlie Chaplin, and Miles Davis. They rarely mean things like live streams of Korean pop music, generally known as K-pop. And yet K-pop is undoubtedly an expression – some would say a particularly …

Canada is planning to take the EU’s link tax as a model for one of its own new and bad copyright laws

One chapter of my Walled Culture book (free download available in various formats) looks at how the bad ideas embodied in the EU’s appalling Copyright Directive – the worst copyright law so far – are being taken up elsewhere. One I didn’t include, because its story is still unfolding, is Canada’s Bill C-18: “An Act …

The Czech Republic’s proposed version of upload filters has a bad idea that could become a great one

A clear demonstration that the EU Copyright Directive is a badly-drafted law is the fact that it has still not been implemented in national legislation by all the EU Member States three years after it was passed, and over a year after the nominal deadline for doing so. That’s largely because of the upload filters …

The copyright world is already panicking about music created using generative AI; too late

A couple of weeks ago, Walled Culture wrote about the rapid rise and advance of generative AI in the world of visual arts. One key aspect was its impact on copyright, which emerges as making even less sense in a world where AI programs can knock out an infinite number of images on any topic …

 

October 2022

Why the “true fans” model is great not only for creators, but for entrepreneurs too

The “true fans” idea has appeared in many posts on this blog, and also makes an appearance in the last chapter of Walled Culture the book, as a viable alternative to copyright and its manifest ills. Kevin Kelly first articulated the true fans idea in 2008, and it was surprisingly soon after that companies started …

No good deed goes unpunished in a world where the rules have been set by academic publishers

One of the heroes of my new book Walled Culture is Paul Ginsparg. In 1991, Ginsparg set up an automated email server while he was a staff member of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. As preprints – early versions of academic papers – were uploaded, the server would send out alerts to subscribers, who could …

A concept that should not exist at all is already implemented: the “paying” public domain

A couple of weeks ago, Walled Culture reported on a terrible idea in France: requiring companies to pay for the use of public domain material. As the post explained, this is a subversion of what it means for something to enter the public domain, and a betrayal of the implicit bargain of copyright. Fortunately, the …

Why generative AI will take over the world of art, and will render copyright irrelevant

Observant readers of this blog may have noticed that the images used to illustrate the posts have changed recently. Previously, I have drawn on photos that were either in the public domain, or released under a minimal Creative Commons licence such as CC-BY 4.0. For reasons best known to itself, Google Image search has gone …

How music platform Corite is turning true fans into digital street teams

The last chapter of Walled Culture – the book looks at how the many problems of copyright might be mitigated. It concludes with Kevin Kelly’s idea of “1000 true fans“, which has been discussed on this blog previously. One of the most interesting aspects of the true fans idea is that it doesn’t depend on …

How copyright absurdity rules over J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Rings of Power”

J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is one of the best-known and best-loved modern works of literature, not least thanks to Peter Jackson’s films based on the cycle. Given that popularity, it’s no surprise that there was interest in creating adaptations of other Tolkien works. The result is “The Lord of the Rings: …

Coming soon: the next phase of copyright maximalism – destroying the public domain

The public domain is the natural state of creative material. It’s where creations end up once copyright’s monopoly has expired. Crucially, it is the quid pro quo for that monopoly. The deal is that the creator of a work is granted a government-enforced intellectual monopoly for a limited period, after which the work enters the …

Ed Sheeran must face yet another music copyright trial, even more outrageous than the others

Back in April, Walled Culture wrote about Ed Sheeran’s victory in a case alleging copyright infringement. Unfortunately, the copyright world’s obsession with ownership means that Sheeran can’t simply relax now. In fact, he has already been hit with another lawsuit. What makes this case worse is that it is alleged he copied his hit song …

 

September 2022

Walled Culture, the book, now freely available: what that means, and how you can help

Today is an important day for this blog: Walled Culture – the book – has launched. You can download free copies now in a variety of digital formats. Or, if you prefer, you can order it in a traditional book form from your favourite online bookseller, but I’m afraid that requires a (smallish) payment to …

Open access is taking over, but academic institutions are paying as much money as ever: what happened?

The good news is that open access publishing, which allows anyone to read academic papers without needing a subscription, is taking over. The bad news is that academic publishers have managed to subvert it, so the victory is proving hollow. That’s confirmed by a new preprint from an international group of researchers: Since the early …

Best-selling organic chemistry textbook to be freely available, supported by enlightened patronage

It’s well known that textbook prices are generally high. That’s in part because academic publishers effectively have a monopoly when it comes to standard texts. Very often, there are texts that students simply must have as part of their course, which means they will pay even exorbitant prices. One such book was John McMurry’s Organic …

Ireland shows how to take the true fans idea to the next level, with a bold new arts funding programme

One of the recurring themes on this blog is the idea of true fans: hard-core supporters of an artist who are willing to send money directly to creators whose work they love. The original idea was expressed most cogently by Kevin Kelly back in 2008: You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to …

Imagine a world where amazing fanfic was the norm, not the exception: only copyright stands in the way

On the Pocket site, there’s a fascinating story about fanfic – fan fiction – which Wikipedia defines as “fictional writing written in an amateur capacity by fans, unauthorized by [the original work’s creator or publisher], but based on an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the …

Upload filters: unjustified blocks, unfair appeals process, and a system rigged in favour of Big Content

The EU Copyright Directive contains one of the worst ideas in modern copyright: what amounts to a requirement to filter uploads on major sites.  Despite repeated explanations of why this would cause huge harm to both creators and members of the public, EU politicians were taken in by the soothing words of the legislation’s proponents, …

Twitch mutes top videogame streamer because of claim he used someone’s copyright siren sound effect

Alongside death and taxes, one of life’s great certainties is a constant flow of absurd copyright claims. Here’s one from the world of live videogame streaming on the popular Twitch platform, owned by Amazon.  A group of Spanish-speaking streamers organised a gaming event featuring “Project Zomboid“, a zombie survival role-playing game. TorrentFreak explains how copyright …

Educational publisher Pearson finds a way to make NFTs even worse

Back in April, Walled Culture noted that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offer very little benefit for creators, despite the grand claims made for them.  Since then, the once trendy sector is collapsing, with both NFTs and cryptocurrencies revealing themselves to be little more than scams and pyramid schemes.  But just when you might have hoped that …

 

August 2022

Guest post | Au-delà de l’attentisme, une voie expérimentaliste pour l’avenir du droit d’auteur ?

Pourquoi protéger les droits d’auteur ? A moins d’être partisan des justifications lockéennes de la propriété intellectuelle (et d’être prêt à assumer leurs conséquences radicales dans le domaine de la propriété matérielle), nombreux sont ceux qui répondraient que la justification la plus forte réside dans l’argument de l’incitation à la création : sans la possibilité pour les …

 

July 2022

Why Meta’s project to translate automatically between 200 languages will be stymied by copyright

Meta’s AI division has announced two exciting new projects in the field of machine translation: The first is No Language Left Behind, where we are building a new advanced AI model that can learn from languages with fewer examples to train from, and we will use it to enable expert-quality translations in hundreds of languages, …

PlayStation reminds people that digital ownership is vanishing, by removing films they had bought

Last month, we wrote about the imminent death of digital ownership. In case some people didn’t get the message, Sony’s PlayStation division has just made it crystal clear (translation by DeepL) with the imminent removal of 314 titles in Germany and 137 in Austria from the distributor StudioCanal: As of 31 August 2022, due to …

Facebook is so sure its erroneous blocking of music is right, there’s no option to say it’s wrong

It’s hardly a secret that upload filters don’t work well. Back in 2017, Felix Reda, then Shadow Rapporteur on the EU Copyright Directive in the European Parliament, put together a representative sample of the many different ways in which filters fail. A recent series of tweets by Markus Pössel, Senior Outreach Scientist at the Max …

Why the true fans model is coming into its own now, and how to ensure its sustainability

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are big supporters of the true fans idea – that artists can thrive by building stronger connections with a core of faithful fans who will support their favourite creators well beyond the level of simply paying them occasionally for their material. Perhaps the earliest and best …

The mighty Elsevier academic octopus adds another tentacle

Last year, Walled Culture noted that the academic publisher Elsevier enjoys an astonishing profit margin of 30-40%. Those profits, built on the free labour of academics writing about research that has been largely paid for with public money, has allowed Elsevier to go on a spending spree, buying up companies that complement and extend its …

How copyright’s ownership obsession has turned magazine contracts into intellectual extractivism

The indispensable Cory Doctorow, who was the first person to speak with Walled Culture as part of its interview series, has yet another great post that encapsulates a particular aspect of copyright madness: the obsession with ownership. Drawing on his own long experience in writing for magazines, he explains: There was the time that a …

 

June 2022

Running up that hill: Kate Bush shows the best way to make lots of money in pop music

Anyone who watches the Netflix sci-fi drama “Stranger Things” probably also knows about Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)“, originally released in 1985. It was always a great song, but now it’s a massively popular great song thanks to the series, as Music Business Worldwide explains: Last week, Running Up …

Top Harvard lawyers don’t think making and sharing unauthorised digital copies is theft

TorrentFreak has a report about a piece of research – sadly behind a paywall – by Malgorzata Ciesielska and Dariusz Jemielniak, that looks at copyright from an unusual angle. It is based on in-depth interviews with 50 lawyers participating in Harvard’s Master of Laws (LL.M.) programme: Harvard’s LL.M. students include lawyers working in firms, government …

A million-pound musical coda to Ed Sheeran’s recent copyright case victory

Walled Culture has written a couple of times about lawsuits alleging copyright infringement by Ed Sheeran. Most recently, it noted the good news that a UK judge ruled that Sheeran did not copy ideas from from another song in one of his biggest hits. There’s now what might be called a coda to this story, …

Amazon’s doubly amazing achievement in becoming the backbone of Hollywood

Back in March, Walled Culture reported on Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, and how it was a logical move for the company given that it is seeking to establish itself as one of the main video streaming companies, alongside Netflix and Disney. But in the background, Amazon has achieved something even more remarkable, first noted in …

If they could, publishers would abolish libraries; here’s what they are doing instead

It is often said that if public libraries did not exist, modern publishers would never allow them to be set up, on the grounds that “clearly” every book loaned out was a sale lost. Fortunately, at the time that public libraries were created in various countries, publishers took a more enlightened view. Unfortunately, today’s publishers …

What exactly is plagiarism? And does it really matter anyway?

There’s a fascinating article by Rebecca Jennings on Vox which explores the vexed question of plagiarism. Its starting point is a post on TikTok, entitled “How to EASILY Produce Video Ideas for TikTok.” It gives the following advice: Find somebody else’s TikTok that inspires you and then literally copy it. You don’t need to copy …

How “merit-based monetisation” works for game streaming, where copyright fails

An interesting development in the digital world has been the continuing rise of gaming as a hugely popular activity, and a hugely profitable industry. Flowing from that rise and popularity, there is yet another fascinating aspect: streaming games for entertainment. The best-known example of this phenomenon is Twitch, now owned by Amazon. A new paper …

Enjoy digital ownership and public libraries while you can: they may disappear soon…

Michael E. Karpeles, Program Lead on OpenLibrary.org at the Internet Archive, spotted an interesting blog post by Michael Kozlowski, the editor-in-chief of Good e-Reader. It concerns Amazon and its audiobook division, Audible: Amazon owned Audible ceased selling individual audiobooks through their Android app from Google Play a couple of weeks ago. This will prevent anyone …

For all the wrong reasons, two great copyright taboos have been broken

The Authors Alliance blog has an interesting post about Disney’s relationship with the duration of copyright in the US. This manifested itself most famously with the US Copyright Term Extension Act, passed in 1998. As the New York Times explained in 2002: The 1998 extension was a result of intense lobbying by a group of …

Concordance: how Discord has become the latest hot platform for creators to engage with true fans

Walled Culture has just written about the new Scriber platform, which is designed to make it easier for artists to keep their fans close and happy. But the increasing desire to engage with people who love what an artist is doing, and not just drop products on them from on high, is leading many creators …

How can you save a dying language when copyright lets somebody own its key learning materials?

One of deep-seated problems with copyright is that its supporters believe everything created should be “owned” by someone and protected from being “stolen” by others. Walled Culture has already written about how that’s a bad fit for writing music, and the NBC News site has a fascinating story about how the same issue is plaguing …

UK copyright madness is back: ten years in prison for downloading and sharing a single song

One of the problems with the copyright industry lobbying for new laws is that governments often have no problem with passing them, no matter how one-sided and disproportionate their features may be. That’s despite other voices warning of the negative consequences that will flow from doing so. It seems that subservience to the copyright industry’s …

The true fans idea is not just about wishy-washy, feel-good charity: it’s a business too

Walled Culture has written several times about the “true fans” idea as an alternative approach to the traditional remuneration models employed by the copyright industry players, such as publishers, recording companies and film studios. It’s a simple approach: get the people who really love an artist’s work to support it directly, and in advance, rather …

Good news: Taiwan creates a new fair use of copyright material; bad news: it’s tiny

Too often we assume that copyright is something that only concerns Western nations like the US and EU. But it’s important to remember that copyright has been exported all around the world. Moreover, when Western nations make copyright worse, they then try to convince other countries to adopt the same bad ideas, for example through …

 

May 2022

Creators everywhere are struggling, copyright is failing them: time to find something better

The Guardian has an interesting feature looking at how Australian artists from working-class backgrounds face greater obstacles to succeeding than those from other social classes do. It contains some useful statistics about how much creators in that country earn: In 2017, in the last major study done on the issue, the Australia Council found that …

Slow down, Japan: are “fast movies” a substitute for the real thing, or just good marketing?

There’s an interesting post on the TorrentFreak blog about “fast movies“: These heavily edited copies of mainstream movies aim to summarize key plot lines via voice-over narration in about 10 minutes. While no replacement for the real thing, these edits accumulated millions of views and incurred the wrath of rightsholders, leading to the arrest of …

During the Covid pandemic, some publishers didn’t just fail libraries, they exploited them

Back in December last year, a guest post on Walled Culture by Yohanna Anderson related how publishers initially offered universities free access to ebook collections when it became clear that the Covid pandemic would mean libraries would not be able to open for the foreseeable future. It seemed a generous move on the publishers’ part. …

How copyright deprived us of a literary and pictorial mash-up of Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Geisel) is one of the best-known writers for children. He died in 1991, but his books remain extremely popular. Publishers Weekly has a fascinating story about him, his work and copyright. One part concerns a five-year-long legal dispute between ComicMix, a publisher with a Web site about comics, and Dr. …

A fan’s unique recordings of the Beatles won’t be available online, because of “copyright issues”

There’s a story in the Mail on Sunday that underlines why it is important for people to make copies. It concerns the re-surfacing of rare recordings of the Beatles: In the summer of 1963, the BBC began a radio series called Pop Go The Beatles which went out at 5pm on Tuesdays on the Light …

Why moving to diamond open access will not only save money, but also help to protect privacy

Back in September last year, Walled Culture mentioned the consistently high profit margins of 30-40% enjoyed by the academic publisher Elsevier. That’s problematic because these profits flow from the work of academics largely paid for by the taxpayer, with additional refereeing and editorial work generally carried out for free by other academics. So Elsevier gains …

How backdated articles abuse the DMCA’s takedown system to remove legitimate news items

Online platforms often give access to digital material that is under copyright. If any of that content is infringing, then potentially the platform would be liable as well as the person who uploaded it. Online companies naturally want to be immune to the consequences of any copyright infringement committed by their users. However, companies in …

Like news publishers, magazine publishers want money from Google; here’s why it is happy to pay

Last week, Walled Culture noted that newspaper publishers still don’t understand what has happened in their industry. They labour under the misapprehension that the digital giants like Google and Facebook are “stealing” their editorial material. That’s not true: instead, as Cory Doctorow puts it, they are stealing their money, because of the way that online …

Even algospeak won’t save us from upload filter overblocking

Over on the EFF blog, Cory Doctorow points to an interesting article in the Washington Post about “algospeak“: “Algospeak” is becoming increasingly common across the Internet as people seek to bypass content moderation filters on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. Algospeak refers to code words or turns of phrase users …

“Red hot music copyrights market” leaves most creators out in the cold

Last week, Walled Culture wrote about the juicy £230 million pay that the head of Universal Music Group (UMG) took home up last year. That may be exceptional for one individual, but there’s plenty of money sloshing around elsewhere in the ecosystem. A news item in the Financial Times (FT) reports on attempts by Providence …

Applying (artificial) intelligence to the Copyright Directive’s stupid idea of upload filters

Last week the European Union’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), handed down its judgment on whether upload filters should be allowed as part of the EU Copyright Directive. The answer turned out to be a rather unclear “yes, but…“. Martin Husovec, an assistant professor of law at the London …

Two reasons the snippet tax won’t wash as a solution, and what to do instead

Walled Culture has written a number of posts about the so-called “snippet tax” – the idea that platforms like Google and Facebook should pay for the privilege of sending traffic to newspaper sites. An essay by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Sarah Anne Ganter, based on their book “The Power of Platforms“, articulates one reason why …

Universal Music Group boss took home £230 million last year: is that really fair?

Last year, Walled Culture reported on the highly-successful Universal Music Group (UMG) IPO on Amsterdam’s Euronext exchange, which valued the company at €45 billion (over $50 billion). The post noted that the chief executive of the UMG, Sir Lucian Grainge, might pick up a bonus of $170 million as a result. According to the Times …

 

April 2022

Copyright industry demands Finland’s version of upload filters should be more unbalanced

Like other EU Member States, Finland is grappling with the problem of how to implement the EU Copyright Directive’s Article 17 (upload filters) in national legislation. A fascinating post by Samuli Melart in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice reveals yet another attempt by the copyright industry to make a bad law even …

The digital creator economy: how big is it, and who’s making how much?

One of the most dramatic differences between the traditional, analogue world of creation, and the modern, digital one, is the democratisation that has taken place in this sphere. Until recently, writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers collectively formed a relatively select group that was hard to enter as a professional. Today, anyone with an Internet connection …

Top EU court hands down judgment on upload filters that is as clear as mud

Walled Culture has just written about the great difficulty national governments are having in transposing the EU Copyright Directive into local law. That’s largely because of the badly-drafted and contradictory Article 17. It effectively calls for upload filters, which have obvious problems for freedom of expression because of the impossibility of crafting algorithms that encapsulate …

The EU Copyright Directive is so bad it’s proving really hard to transpose into decent national laws

Walled Culture has written numerous posts about the EU Copyright Directive, because it contains two extremely harmful ideas. The first is the “snippet tax“, an attempt by some press publishers to make sites like Google pay for the privilege of displaying and linking to newspaper publishers’ material – an assault on the Web’s underlying hyperlink …

Canada is about to repeat New Zealand’s folly by extending copyright term; so bring back registration

Canada looks likely to follow New Zealand’s bad example by extending its copyright term by 20 years, purely for the sake of a trade deal.  The New Zealand government’s research showed that extending copyright term in this way makes no sense, and the same is true for Canada.  As Michael Geist writes on his blog …

Ed Sheeran wins copyright lawsuit, but now films himself as he writes songs to forestall more litigation

Last month Walled Culture wrote about Ed Sheeran being sued for alleged copyright infringement – one of many such lawsuits.  Happily, he won, because the judge understood how music works, as his comments show, reported here by Music Business Worldwide: The use of the first four notes of the rising minor pentatonic scale for the …

How to save the newspaper industry (hint: not with snippet taxes)

There’s no denying that the newspaper industry is in trouble. In part, the publishing companies have themselves to blame. For too long, they have fought against the Internet, instead of embracing it. Even now, there are still misguided attempts to cream money off online players, as in the various snippet taxes around the world. Simply …

NFTs are mostly useless or worse, but here’s one important way they could help creators

As you may have noticed, the Internet is awash with hyperbolic claims about non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. From the volume of that discussion, and some of the numbers thrown around, it’s easy to assume that there must be something big going on here. There isn’t. NFTs are mostly elements in speculative bubbles that require a …

Microsoft tries to cosy up to newspaper publishers, forgets that for them, enough is never enough

A few months after the snippet tax was agreed as part of the EU Copyright Directive, Australia indicated it wanted to take the same route. The government there planned to make Internet companies pay newspapers for sending the latter extra traffic, by imposing something called the News Media Bargaining Code. In a blog post from …

 

March 2022

Warhol should have said: In the future, every artist will be sued for alleged copyright infringement

A few weeks ago, a Walled Culture blog post looked at the spate of lawsuits over alleged plagiarism in the world of music. Since the root of the problem here is copyright, which seeks to establish a monopoly over even the tiniest elements of creativity, it’s no surprise that exactly the same issue crops up …

The ratchet strikes again: US SMART Copyright Act is even worse than EU upload filters

The EU’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is bad news for many reasons. For example, it shows how the copyright industry has succeeded in obtaining yet more legislation to impose its outdated analogue approaches on the digital Internet. It was only able to do that by conducting a dishonest campaign about what …

Publishers seem to believe their outsized sense of entitlement should trump democracy

One of the striking features of the copyright industry is its insatiability. No matter how long, broad and strong copyright becomes, the copyright world wants it to be yet longer, broader and stronger. It seems companies simply cannot conceive of any point where there is “enough” copyright in the world. A good example is in …

Recorded music is thriving everywhere: so why keep pushing for yet more bad copyright laws?

Walled Culture has noted various signs that the recorded music industry is thriving, particularly the streaming sector. That state of affairs has now been confirmed officially by the Global Music Report 2022 from the IFPI – the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry – which represents the global recording industry. Here’s the summary: In 2021, …

Why the snippet tax of the EU Copyright Directive is pointless and doomed to fail

The EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market contains two spectacularly bad ideas. One is the upload filter of Article 17, which will wreak havoc not just on creativity in the EU, but also on freedom of speech there, as algorithms block perfectly legal material. The other concerns the “snippet tax” of Article …

Copyright concentration continues: Amazon closes its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM

There are few more famous studios in the history of cinema than MGM. Wikipedia describes its early days: MGM was formed by Marcus Loew by combining Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures into a single company. It hired a number of well known actors as contract players – its slogan was “more …

Copyright is indispensable for artists, they say; but for all artists, or just certain kinds?

One of the central “justifications” for copyright is that it is indispensable if creativity is to be viable. Without it, we are assured, artists would starve. This ignores the fact that artists created and thrived for thousands of years before the 1710 Statute of Anne. But leaving that historical detail aside, as well as the …

How a minor copyright squabble changed the course of scientific history, and not for the better

Anyone who reads scientific papers has probably come across “p-values“. The Wikipedia entry explains the idea as follows: In null-hypothesis significance testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining test results at least as extreme as the results actually observed, under the assumption that the null hypothesis is correct. A very small p-value means that …

TikTok gets into the music marketing and distribution business

Last month we wrote about an increasingly important trend of digital platforms becoming more involved in digital production. Here’s another striking example: TikTok, best known for its short-form mobile videos, featuring things like dance, jokes, stunts and tricks, has announced the launch of the SoundOn platform, “designed to empower new and undiscovered artists, helping them …

A further spate of lawsuits demonstrate how copyright is antithetical to creativity

It is established dogma in the church of copyright that the latter is an indispensable tool for promoting creativity. A couple of recent lawsuits against top musicians give the lie to that idea. Here’s one of them, reported on the Copyright Lately blog: On Tuesday, Dua Lipa was hit with a copyright complaint by Florida …

Time for the copyright world to stop attacking the Internet’s infrastructure

Despite the impossibility of stopping people making copies of digital material, the copyright industry continues to launch ever-more extreme legal actions against outside parties in a desperate attempt to do just that. For example, back in October, this blog reported on an attempt to force a CDN – content delivery network – to act as …

Will analogue academic textbooks be the next to move to the Spotify digital licensing model?

Last December, a post noted that Spotify is a rising digital giant, despite its lack of profitability. As well as representing a concentration of power – something seen across the online world – Spotify is a good example of another important trend that the shift from analogue to digital has made possible: the death of …

Donda 2 or dongle 2.0? Why Kanye West’s $200 album + Stem Player combo is a smart move

Kanye West has just carried out a fascinating copyright experiment. That probably wasn’t his intention when he released his eleventh studio album Donda 2, but the launch has nonetheless provided some interesting insights regarding the music sector. As he revealed earlier, Donda 2 is not on “Apple Amazon Spotify or YouTube“. Instead, it is only …

The ratchet: even demonstrably ineffectual and unnecessary copyright laws are never repealed

The European Union is working on a number of important new digital laws. These includes the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, and the Data Act. A new press release about the last of these contains the following section: the Data Act reviews certain aspects of the Database Directive, which was created in the …

New research shows traditional open access has failed. Time to do something different

Last week, I wrote about diamond open access. I noted that one of the problems with the “mainstream” form of open access, also known as gold open access, is that the article-processing charges (APCs) were unaffordable for many academics. Some new research – published, ironically, in the journal Nature, whose APC is a stratospheric 9,500 …

 

February 2022

New Zealand is about to commit copyright theft – the real kind

When modern copyright was invented with the Statute of Anne in 1710, it consisted of a bargain. In return for a time-limited, government-enforced monopoly, creators agreed that their work would pass afterwards into what came to be called the public domain – free for anyone to do anything with. Whatever you might think of the …

Why add to Ukraine’s problems with an unnecessary implementation of a bad EU copyright law?

It would be something of an understatement to say that Ukraine is facing serious problems currently. Against that background, this news from the IPKat blog is rather surprising: While certain EU Member States are still to transpose Directive (EU) 2019/790 (Copyright [Digital Single Market] Directive), Ukraine, a non-EU country, has decided to implement certain provisions …

DRM on paper shows why anti-circumvention laws are copyright’s biggest blunder

Most people are familiar with the Dymo label printer in some form or another. Not an exciting product perhaps, but quite a useful one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has some bad news – Dymo is adding DRM to its label paper in the form of RFID chips: Dymo’s latest generation of desktop label printers use …

Little mermaid, long copyright, big absurdity

Many people are familiar with The Little Mermaid statue, perched on a rock by the waterside in Copenhagen, Denmark. What is less well-known is the absurd copyright maximalism it has given rise to. The latest manifestation concerns a cartoon depicting the statue as a zombie, and a photo of it with a facemask, reported here …

First financialisation, now securitisation: copyright music industry moves further away from artists

I’ve written a couple of times about a worrying new trend: music copyrights becoming completely divorced from the original creativity that lies behind them, thanks to the increasing financialisation of the sector. As songs are viewed simply as assets that can be bought and sold, they can also be manipulated in other ways, including securitisation, …

Who knew? Diamond open access publishing is not rare at all, but actually very common

Back in December I was extolling the virtues of green open access, which involves academics self-archiving their work so that anyone can freely download it and read it. In that article, I also mentioned diamond open access. It’s like gold open access, with articles published in a digital journal, but without the gold OA charge …

Auguste Rodin’s sculptures are in the public domain; 3D scans of them should be, too

Auguste Rodin is without doubt one of the greatest sculptors in history. Equally without doubt, his works are now in the public domain, since he died in 1917. Unfortunately, the situation in France is a little more complicated, for reasons the artist and public domain campaigner Cosmo Wenman explains: Shortly before his death, Rodin willed …

Nintendo kills off an ad-free YouTube channel where fans could listen to its game music, because copyright

Walled Culture has just written about the way the boundaries between digital platforms and digital producers are becoming more fluid. Here’s another interesting melding of media: the GilvaSunner channel on YouTube, which consists of nothing but video game soundtracks, mostly from Nintendo games. It’s a pity we can no longer visit it (original account that is …

A bit is a bit is a bit: digital platforms begin to merge with digital producers

Last week Walled Culture wrote about Microsoft’s planned purchase of the video gaming company Activision. That’s been followed by some other news stories that may not involve such headline-grabbing acquisitions, but which do form part of the same larger trend. First, there’s the Joe Rogan kerfuffle at Spotify. Tim De Chant on Ars Technica explained …

ResearchEquals: step-by-step academic publishing, where the default is openness and CC0

There are a number of problems with academic publishing, which open access has been trying to fix for over two decades. Back in 2020, a “Manifesto to Liberate Science: Organic knowledge(s)” appeared, with the following interesting framing of the issues: We have inadvertently handed over the pursuit of knowledge to those who wish to commodify …

Beyond a game: Microsoft swallows up Activision, a further concentration of power in a few digital giants

This blog has written a couple times about YouTube‘s dominance in the video sector. Spotify may well create a similar leading position for itself in music streaming, while a mega-merger underway would shrink publishing‘s Big Five into the Big Four. A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter shows that a similar concentration of power is …

Analogue books go from strength to strength – helped, not hindered, by the digital world

Many of the worst ideas in recent copyright laws have been driven by some influential companies’ fear of the transition from analogue to digital. Whereas analogue formats – vinyl, books, cinematic releases of films – are relatively easy to control, digital ones are not. Once a creation is in a digital form, anyone can make …

 

January 2022

The top ten YouTubers collectively earned $300m in 2021: is that good or bad?

It’s always interesting to see hard figures about how much individuals earn online from their activities there. For example, Forbes published an article recently that looked at the top ten YouTubers. The income of the stars in this relatively new medium turns out to be comparable to that of those working in traditional ones like …

Google Drive’s automated monitoring system flags up the number 1 as a copyright infringement

Earlier this week, Dr Emily Dolson, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, posted the tweet shown above. It’s a warning that one of Dr Dolson’s files violates Google Drive’s Copyright Infringement policy, and that some features related to the file “may have been restricted”. As she tweeted, the file contains a single line with the …

Thanks to copyright maximalism, video game masterpieces are likely to be lost forever

Video games are undoubtedly an art form, arguably the quintessential art form of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They combine graphics, video, music and interactive plotlines to produce a uniquely rich and complex creation only possible thanks to the widespread availability of powerful but low-cost systems like game consoles and personal computers. Clearly, …

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 …