Book review: Walled Culture

This is a review of Walled Culture: How Big Content Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Keep Creators Poor by Glyn Moody. 


Glyn Moody says about the book: “Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa get sued for alleged plagiarism and the majority of creators see pennies for their work, while the revenues of the record labels are exploding. Libraries struggle to give access to ebooks and get sued by an increasingly more powerful book industry, while publicly funded research papers get locked up. Walled Culture is the first book providing a compact, non-technical history of digital copyright and its problems over the last 30 years, and the social, economic and technological implications.” Readers can hear more from the author in an interview here

The book aims to answer the following key questions:

What are the problems with copyright in the digital age?

Why does copyright harm creators and block global access to knowledge?

How does copyright threaten basic freedoms and undermine the Internet?

How can we promote creativity and help artists and make a living in the digital age?

What should we do to solve all these problems?

It does this in nine chapters. The first chapter, From Analogue to Digital, highlights the significance of that one-time step from an analogue world into a digital one, and how copyright “resists and fights against the digital future.” Moody highlights the impact of digital computers on copyright, given the ability to make perfect and indistinguishable copies of original works. It details the copyright industry lobbying in the and subsequent legislative proposals to address the threats of digital copying in the USA, which eventually led to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 and the 1996 the WIPO Copyright Treaty.

Moody argues that these laws strengthened copyright in unreasonable ways. In turn, all this constrained innovation in the digital world as well as “impoverish[ing] society and its freedoms by building new legal and technical walls around culture.” 

The subsequent chapters attempt to demonstrate this argument with examples such as Orphan Works in chapter two, Open Access in chapter three, Napster in chapter four, notice and take down and website blocking in chapter five, the EU Copyright Directive in chapters six and seven. Moody refers to it as “copyright’s worst new law.” He summarises the history of copyright over the last few decades as “massive lobbying by the music, film and publishing industries” which has led to laws that “extend copyright in multiple ways, and strengthen the penalties for infringing upon it, including criminal ones.” 

Chapter eight touches on some topics close to this Kat’s heart; the UK Economics of Streaming Inquiry [Katposts here] and music copying cases such as the Katy Perry case [Katposts here]. As you may expect by this point Moody has some views that range from copyright is “a bad fit for creativity,” to copyright is “problematic.”

By chapter nine we are well acquainted with Moody’s views of copyright and familiar with its shortcomings. In case you were still unsure, he begins the final chapter “Copyright is manifestly not working for the vast majority of creators or their fans.” So, it is a relief to find a solution-oriented suggestion in the title of the last chapter; “True Fans Are the Real Solution.” 

In this chapter, Moody suggests that some of copyright’s problems are easy to fix, such as by bringing back formalities for copyright which, he argues, would mean that most activities on the Internet would no longer be protected by copyright. Moody also advocates for repealing Article 17 of the EU Copyright Directive, which he says is “the most harmful piece of copyright legislation since the DMCA and the EU Information Society Directive.” Moody concludes the book by presenting readers with an alternative: “Copyright or the Internet – choose one.” 

If we did agree with Moody’s assessment of copyright problems, which is based on his assumption that copyright is supposed to “provide the public with the fruits of a creator’s work, while at the same time rewarding that creativity fairly” and this goal is not currently being met, this Kat wonders if such a polarising position is useful, when there are surely a multitude of options and possible improvements. 

Quite frankly, this book will be a great read for anyone who absolutely hates copyright. It would also appeal to those who are interested in a critique of copyright regulation, lobbying and enforcement. It may appeal to those who do appreciate copyright and are interested in hearing a counterview too, if they can overlook the severity of the tone with which it is written. 


Readers can access the book digitally via a PDF of the book for free here.

Also available in paperback and kindle

Book review: Walled Culture Book review: Walled Culture Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Saturday, November 04, 2023 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. The part relating to publication of academic work (or government funded work) is very interesting, see quote below from page 56. This raises the very interesting question of government capture (or regulatory capture, see where how laws are written or enforced is influenced too much by the industry that needs to be regulated. This would lead into the area of how to change government which is outside the scope of the book, but shows there needs to be a recognition of situations where the legislative process is inadequate essentially because not all interests are represented equally.
    The report noted: ‘The principle that the results of research
    that has been publicly funded should be freely accessible
    in the public domain is a compelling one, and fundamentally
    unanswerable.’188 Its main recommendation was that
    ‘the UK should embrace the transition to open access’; more
    specifically, it suggested adopting gold open access rather
    than the green version: ‘a clear policy direction should be
    set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid
    journals, funded by APCs [article processing charges paid
    by institutions], as the main vehicle for the publication of
    research, especially when it is publicly funded.’189


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.