While the public and the media were distracted by the talk of peer-to-peer file sharing, warnings about the evils of "piracy," and lawsuits by the recording and film industries, the way copyright is enforced in the digital world quietly shifted from regulating copying to regulating the design of technology. Lawmakers and commercial interests pursued a technical fix: instead of specifying what can and cannot be done legally with a copyrighted work, this new approach called for the strategic use of encryption technologies to build standards of copyright directly into digital devices so that some uses are possible and others rendered impossible. Wired Shut examines this shift to "technical copy protection" and its profound political, economic, and cultural implications.

Gillespie reveals that the real story is not the technological controls themselves but the political, economic, and cultural arrangements put in place to make them work. This approach to digital copyright depends on new kinds of alliances among content and technology industries, legislators, regulators, and the courts; whether or not such technical constraints ever succeed, the political alignments required have profoundly shaped the future of cultural expression in a digital age. The film and music industries, he claims, are deploying copyright in order to funnel digital culture into increasingly commercial patterns that threaten to undermine the democratic potential of a network society.

published by The MIT Press, 2007

book cover

Praise for the book:

"Wired Shut is an important book, essential for those who care about the future of digital technologies and information flows. The societal implications of digital rights management technologies have never been explored this deeply or comprehensively. DRM technologies are neither technological nor economic imperatives, and Gillespie shows that their social costs are avoidable. Bravo!"— Pamela Samuelson, Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law & Information, University of California, Berkeley

"Tarleton Gillespie has produced a lucid and essential corrective to the techno-fundamentalism afflicting our discussions of culture, economics, and policy. Wired Shut is instantly one of the most important books about copyright and technology available."— Siva Vaidhyanathan, New York University, author of Copyrights and Copywrongs, The Anarchist in the Library, The Googlization of Everything, and Antisocial Media.

"The book is not a screed against content owners, or a manifesto in favor of information wanting to be free, but rather a look by a non-lawyer at the way technology is being used by content owners to influence the design to technology. The greatest strength of the book is its demonstration of what it takes to marshal the various forces necessary to achieve that control: agreement among a diverse group of usually competitive content owners, the consumer electronics industry, standards groups, distributors, and Congress to name a few, as well as what it takes to beat back opposing forces. These issues tend to be treated in a cardboard fashion in other discussions, and it is a signal achievement of Professor Gillespie that he demonstrates the intensive effort it takes to accomplish such control."— William Patry, Senior Copyright Counsel, Google. Formerly copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary; author of the seven-volume treatise Patry on Copyright, as well as Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and How to Fix Copyright

"Gillespie has boldly attempted a broad and deep analysis of copyright that integrates cultural, historical, legal, social, political, and technological perspectives—and he succeeds. This is an unusual, excellent, vitally important, and urgently needed book."— Kirsten Foot, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Washington, co-author of Web Campaigning.

"The importance of Gillespie's book is that it focuses directly on a set of issues that are too often separated out into studies of technology, legal studies and cultural sociology... This is, ultimately, an empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated account of copyright and culture that could form the starting point of debate for anyone interested in this essential complex of issues."— Tim Jordan, Cultural Sociology, v2.3, November 2008.


About the Author

Tarleton Gillespie is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England and an affiliated associate professor at Cornell University. He cofounded the blog Culture Digitally. His newest book is Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions that Shape Social Media.

Related writing

Characterizing Copyright in the Classroom: The Cultural Work of Anti-Piracy Campaigns. Communication, Culture, & Critique, v2n3, 2009: 274-318.

Price Discrimination, Regional Coding, and the Shape of the Digital Commodity." In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Durham, NC: SSRC / Columbia University Press, 2008.

(with Dan Burk) “Autonomy and Morality in DRM and Anti-circumvention Law.” TripleC: Cognition, Communication, Cooperation, v4n2, 2006.

Designed to ‘Effectively Frustrate’: Copyright, Technology, and the Agency of Users. New Media & Society, v8n4, 2006: 651-669.

Engineering a Principle: 'End-to-End' in the Design of the Internet. Social Studies of Science, v36n3, 2006: 427-457.

Copyright and Commerce: The DMCA, Trusted Systems, and the Stabilization of Distribution. The Information Society, v20n4, 2004: 239-254.