Review of Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture

Image courtesy of the MIT PressGillespie argues that we must examine the technical, social-cultural, legal and market approaches to copyright in order to understand the ethical, cultural, and political implications of how copyrights are secured in the digital era. Contemporary measures predominantly rely on encryption to survey and regulate content, which has the effect of intervening before infringement can even occur. This new approach is juxtaposed from how copyright regulation operated previously: individuals were prosecuted after having committing copyright infringement. The shift to pre-regulation treats all users as criminals, makes copyright less open to fair use, renders opposition to copyright law through civil disobedience as challenging, and undermines the sense of moral autonomy required for citizens to recognize copyright law’s legitimacy. In essence, the assertion of control over content, facilitated by digital surveillance and encryption schemes, has profound impacts on what it means to be, and act as, a citizen in the digital era.

This text does an excellent job at working through how laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), accompanied by designs of technologies and the political efforts of lobbyists, have established a kind of ‘paracopyright’ regime. This regime limits uses that were once socially and technically permissible, and thus is seen as undermining long-held (analogue-based) notions of what constitutes acceptable sharing of content and media. In establishing closed trusted systems that are regulated by law and received approval from political actors content industries are forging digitality to be receptive to principles of mass-produced culture.

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