Thursday, July 02, 2009

Copyright and Fortress Europe

Earlier today I watched most of a two and half hour discussion on copyright, digital culture, file sharing and the internet hosted by the Fores Seminar (it is in Swedish but the video is available from the link). The panel was divided along the pro-copyright/anti-pirate and anti-copyright/pro-pirate divide (although several of the participants distanced themselves from such a simplistic divide). It started with a series of 'what is good about copyright?', which led into 'what is bad about it'? Those on the panel, many of them well known in Sweden for their professional activities in the areas discussed (lawyers, academics, politicians and business people including Monique Wadsted, Göran Lambertz, Olle Abrahamsson, Rasmus Fleischer, Nicklas Lundblad and Hans Pandeya) expressed standard opinions; why we need copyright, how artists must be paid for their work if culture is to survive, how file sharing is stealing, that it is not stealing, that we are in the midst of a revolution brought about by digital media, that we are not in the midst of a revolution and it has all happened before and so on. The main theme of the discussion (it never really got to the level of debate) was consumption and how it is to be preserved in any future digital culture that may eventuate. This got me thinking.

Even during the broadcast of the Fores panel I was amazed that nobody brought up the idea that copyright not only protects the interests of the artists (and producers, publishers, legitimate distributors etc.) it also protects the wealth of the nations from which they come. Why are we in the developed post-industrial world not seeking ways of helping the developing world through providing access to cultural resources? Why cannot the Global North produce a system of copyright which allows for those that can pay to pay and those that cannot, not? Countries could be given 'copyright credits' with a country like Sierra Leone having free access to everything for a period of five or ten years, while countries like Germany or the USA pay a bit extra. The benefits of these copyright credits cannot be channeled into commercial media until education in the nation has been granted the full benefits of them. Textbooks, films, computer software and audio materials are all free for the education system of the benefiting nation during the period allocated for the copyright credits. Implementation of the materials could be arranged via UNESCO.

Following my initial thoughts of the Fores Seminar, tonight I watched Zapatista, a film from 1999 about the struggle in Chaipas, a struggle that is a direct result of global policy making having catastrophic effects at local levels. As well the Tällberg Forum is on again, this year looking at the possible future that awaits us if we do not start making decisions based on the state of the collective, rather than the wealthy few who can afford to ride out the worst of the havoc wrecked by unbridled consumption and industrial production. I believe copyright is part of this scenario. Copyright is as effective as a wall or navy flotilla in holding out the poor of the world from the riches of the culture and knowledge economy. If there is to be a readdress of copyright in Europe (and this seems unlikely), the possibilities to help those nations to the South should be considered. It could even be offset by a reduction in development aid to the nations that receive copyright credits, saving money for the generous nations who are willing to support such a scheme (so kind they are).

Of course there is no mention of any such crazy ideas in the Fores Seminar.

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