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 preserved forever, and shared with everyone.

Or they would be, were they not governed by copyright from the moment that digital files come into existence. “Modern” copyright was invented in 1710, and assumes – naturally enough – that only analogue objects are involved. These are hard to copy, share and preserve, and copyright laws reflect this.

As a result, there is a fundamental, deep and irreconcilable conflict between the digital world, and traditional copyright. The clout of the copyright industry around the world means that the unprecedented power and possibilities of the digital world are not being fully realised, as copyright protection is privileged over online innovation. In effect, a vast store of digital culture has been walled up and locked away by copyright – hence this blog’s name.

What is lost is a unique opportunity to share freely the entirety of human knowledge with everyone on this planet, no matter how poor or disadvantaged. That, in its turn, dramatically reduces the scope for building on the work and wisdom of others, of collaborating freely, and of enriching the world’s creative store in a glorious positive feedback loop. By putting walls around knowledge and truth, we allow ignorance and lies to run riot outside them, recruiting adherents who have no interest in overcoming the barriers to obtain other, perhaps more rigorous viewpoints. Because of copyright’s walls, billions of people never realise their full intellectual and artistic potential, and we are all hugely the poorer as a consequence.

The aim of Walled Culture is to explore some of the worst examples of this misguided belief that defending outdated copyright is more important than moving forwards and maximising the common good for the benefit of all.

The aim of Walled Culture is to explore some of the worst examples of this misguided belief that defending outdated copyright is more important than moving forwards and maximising the common good for the benefit of all. It will also look at attempts to exploit the extraordinary potential of the digital world, despite copyright’s smothering effect – breaking through the wall.

As well as short and long blog posts about what is happening in this area, there will also be interviews with many of the key thinkers and actors in this field, available as text, audio and video. The long-term aim of this blog is to distil many of these ideas, examples and attempts as a free, short e-book that seeks to bring together the many threads and ideas into a coherent narrative about what is happening, where we are going – and where we perhaps should be going.

This journalism has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Kahle/Austin Foundation; editorial control remains with me, Glyn Moody. Brewster Kahle is the Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, a non-profit library with a mission to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge. The Internet Archive’s digital collections are available online at archive.org, and currently hold over 30 million books and texts, 8.9 million films, videos and TV shows, 649,000 software programs, 13,225,000 audio files, 3.8 million images, and 552 billion Web pages in the Wayback Machine.

Featured image by Nina Paley

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