Understanding how the transposition of the European Directive on copyright may affect our democracies
We are rightly horrified when ISIS destroys monuments. But the constant closure of digital repositories considered “piracy” means thousands of movies disappear. This too is a crime against heritage; and against its authors.
In the name of copyright, sharing sites should be legalised and have sustainable taxes levied to prevent monopolies, not shut down completely.
Free culture refers to free as in freespeech, not free as in free beer, and represents actual respect for authors.
In Spanish or French, there is a deliberate semantic confusion between “authors’ rights”, which must be defended, and “Droit d’auteur” for copyright, which is transferable: in most cases these rights are transferred to the producer or publisher; they are not rights, they are mere bargaining chips.
People involved in the world of culture have been led to fall into this confusion. If “copyright” has been transferred to people other than the authors, it is not the authors that are being protected. I do not mean that the rights of producers and distributors should not be defended, but that we should not manipulate discourse and that we should pursue an economy based on cooperation and not on exploitation and the removal of rights from others. The rights of authors are important, but copyright as it is understood now does not protect authors or cultural diversity at all.
Copyright is born as a bonus that the author receives for their contribution to the common good, to culture. Confusing an author’s rights, or royalties, with wages means that the world of culture is the only field in which people still work in a way that has been forbidden in theory for almost a century: piece work, that is, being paid according to the amount produced, and not for the time or value of the work.
The model that is being defended with this idea of copyright is a model of exploitation of authors, not protection. But the narrative created around the purposefully chosen euphemism “copyright” or “authors rights” has taken hold among the exploited, a sector that, barring very few popular exceptions, finds it very difficult to make a living from their trade.
So the exploited do the dirty work of their exploiters and defend this model. Finally, they join the collecting societies, the last surviving vertical syndicates. These syndicates were abolished because the rights of workers and employers cannot be defended by the same body as it would be asymmetrical towards the latter who have the power to hire. But they are still there in the form of collecting societies.
They have been deceived. The sector endorses the destruction of a tool of democracy and innovation (the Internet) and at the same time contributes without complaint to the perpetuation of monopolies that prevents them from charging fairly for their work.
Figure 1: Distribution of royalties, information extracted from www.kn.com.au
The enemy is not the public, the public is not the pirate but the ally that allows the circulation of creation. The enemy is the one who benefits from it without these benefits returning to the whole production chain. This problem has existed since the very origins of printing.
Instead of regulating sharing sites for the common good, a repressive approach destroys cultural heritage on a massive scale.
How can it be that children are being taught not to share? How can that be right? We should be teaching them to share everything, including profits.
With science and education in decline, the circulation of knowledge is an obligation and a priority, yet we see the opposite happening. Universities in Europe pay millions every year in “copyright” while in other countries such as the US this is considered fair use.
In the 1800s, a time of humanistic naturalism, many people lent books and thus people learned to read; the publishing industry’s campaign claiming that it was being stolen was massive, yet the first public libraries were opened and now to ban it would be considered a crime against the heritage of humanity. Now the libraries aren’t closed, but they are forced to pay fees.
Copyright fanaticism has a chilling effect on science, medicine and development in general, while authors live in precariousness. All this can and must be reversed.
Change has always happened. It all depends on how much suffering we are going to allow them to inflict until change comes around.
We do not need repressive censorship laws. We need fair regulation to share the benefits; we need tax regulation that creates incentives for the circulation of culture, not book burning and barbarism. Sharing sites, in the name of copyright, should be legalised and properly taxed, not shut down.
We need policies in favour of the common good, not just union interests and mafia-like clientelist networks.
And besides, who produces culture?
In the digital age, almost anyone can create culture.
“Creativity is a human capacity that requires access to culture, knowledge and existing information in order to be developed.
Creativity is a networked activity.
We consider the democratisation of the means of production to be the contemporary social reality.
There is no turning back.
Everyone, at different levels and scales, can contribute to producing culture, values and wealth.
The scale at which these contributions operate can consist of very basic activities (listening, reproducing knowledge, etc.) or very complex ones.
The scale of needs and resources required for the creative act can also vary: some require only a few moments of attention, others require a lifetime of dedication. Some can be done with very basic infrastructure and others require complex machinery. Some can be done alone, others must be done in a group.
In the current context of “cognitive capitalism”, we aim to promote ways of freeing up time and resources so that this distributed potential can be developed in a sustainable way”.
We must salvage the original function for which intellectual property and copyright were created. A function of incentive, of stimulation, not merely a way of collecting money.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states [GE.06-40060 (E) 020206):
“The Committee considers that only the “author”, namely the creator, whether man or woman, individual or group of individuals, of scientific, literary or artistic productions, such as, inter alia, writers and artists, can be the beneficiary of the protection of article 15, paragraph 1 (c). Under the existing international treaty protection regimes, legal entities are included among the holders of intellectual property rights. However, as noted above, their entitlements, because of their different nature, are not protected at the level of human rights” (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GE.06- 40060 (I) 020 206)
The rights and freedoms that should be harmonised in this context are the rights and freedoms of authors in the broadest sense (covering, for example, clothing, attrezzo, etc.), entrepreneurs in the cultural sector in the broadest sense (publishers, distributors, etc.) and those of consumers, users, or society in general in terms of their rights of access to culture, information and knowledge.
The future of democracy is the people. Whether or not the state and the guilds agree, the future of democracy is the decentralisation of power to the people who always exchange and create culture. What this fear of disintermediation really hides is the desire to maintain the control and privileges of the few. They want to prevent abundance by creating artificial scarcity.
But democracy can only be considered so if it lives up to its name.
– The sector needs to revise its demands:
• Intermediaries as collaborators and not exploiters. Relationship of partnerships with intermediaries, fair distribution of tasks and revenue
• Digital allows real-time monitoring. Copyright as a bonus and not as piece work. Fair contractual relations.
• Encourage sharing pages as great libraries of knowledge. Monitored rates where there is profit.
Simona Levi, author and theatre director
Copyright to censor, not in my name
[More information in the intervention by Simona Levi of Xnet in the dialogue with D. Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, U. Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, former President R. Prodi and T. Berners-Lee inventor of the web “Access to the Internet: a new human right”
 This is all in:
– Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge (2009) https://fcforum.net/charter/
– User Manual For Sustainable Creativity (2010)
– Positive agenda for copyright (FCForum 2015)