Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Spreading the word - A copyright workshop

(This blogpost is part of a series of blogposts we are doing on 'Spreading the Word : Copyright, Dissemination and Independent Publishing' - a workshop that was organized by ALF and IPDA.)

Maya and I went for the copyright workshop on Thursday morning (and Maya went again on Friday), where we got to listen to a very erudite crowd of lawyers, publishers and authors express their views on copyright. We thought we’d share some of the talks with you as well. These will be posted over the week in no particular order.
Thursday morning, Panel 1:
Lawrence Liang from the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, began with a brief history of copyright, with the kind of labour that went into creating a book, when the access to the book was privileged. Then, with the coming of the printing press, more and more books got published and the need for copyright was established. Liang likened the copyright laws to a big gaping hole. It is almost as if people are interested in it simply because it is not clearly explainable and all the loopholes need to be sorted out. At the time when copyright was first established, there was little clarity as to what the problems were, with regard to intellectual property. Now, though people have a better idea as to what the problems are, no one knows how to fill the void. Liang provided an introduction of sorts to the problems faced while copyrighting, the change in culture of creativity, and about the new age of piracy.
The expansion of intellectual property results in “the erosion of commons of creativity”. What is the alternative of expansionist regime? Is it the public domain? The free open-source movement consists of open content and open access movement. And when copyright is used in a creative manner, some and not all rights are reserved. With respect to the copyright laws, how does creativity figure in the “one size fit all” rule? And with respect to the copyleft movement, what about different kinds of knowledge?
Next, Liang mentioned the shift in the famous 80:20 rule (as discussed by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine), where 20% of the commodity = 80% of the sales = 100% of the profit. Now, the longtail is not necessarily a mass market, which means that there is more space for a niche market, as there is a move from a blockbuster culture to a ‘micro hit’ culture. There is now a space for smaller, unknown voices. Where the book used to be sacred, now chapters are used as stand alones. So, how do you shift the idea of value to deal with piracy and digital anxiety?
Piracy has now reached a different level. In China, where only 20 Hollywood films are allowed to be released in a year, every pirated DVD is stamped with the pirate’s details. Also, these DVDs are more expensive, and also provide you with value for money. When people download the movies by themselves, the quality goes down. There are people to advise the pirates on what to do, on the seasonal trends and so on. These people do not pirate themselves, but merely advise other pirates. (Watch “Pirated Copy” (2004), a movie by He Jianjun, if you want to know more about piracy in China.) Of course, movies and books are two of the many creative things in the world that need copyrighting and these two alone don’t even begin to describe the range of creative ideas around the world that need to be protected from piracy.
The point that Liang was trying to make was pretty clear: though the book has something that the digital age doesn’t have – a 300 year advantage as an object of knowledge or authority – it does not take away from the role of the intermediaries in the creative world, the ones who deal with the product as it moves from the creator to the audience. And the accepted fact of the matter is that since the digital age is here albeit less in the book publishing world, piracy is, nevertheless, here as well.
This was followed by Gautam’s talk on why open licenses build a participatory culture, using Pratham Books as a case study. Stay logged in – Maya will post soon!
Image Source: rosefirerising

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