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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …