Some Personal Observations Regarding the CopySouth Workshop:
Trivandrum, Kerala, December 2008. Trevor Batten, Manila January 2009
SECTION I. Conceptual Contexts:
1.0 A Personal Story?
I'd like to construct myself a beautiful house -but how should I build it?
Where should I put the walls, the stairs, the doors and the
windows? With how many rooms on how many floors? What shape should the
roof have -and what materials should I use?
What should the furniture look like -and where should I place it all?
I'm not even sure if I want a special, unique, kind of house that
attracts attention -or if I want it to be like everybody else's house.
At present, my house is an unwritten book, an empty canvas waiting to be painted -rather like a computer without a programme.
It seems I need a "story" to provide the enviroment which will supply
the conceptual materials that I need to build my house: Because if it
will be shaped by these materials then I won't have to make so many
difficult decisions myself. Luckily, there are many stories to be
found: mystical, mythical and factual historical stories told by family
and friends, remembered stories told out of my own experience, economic
stories told by my wallet, stories of life and death, physical weakness
and endurance -also of materials and nests told by the plants and
animals that live around me -and of course the stories told by the
other houses I see around me.
These "stories" are all complex "systems" of moving parts involving
interactions between various players with different characters and
characteristics, with different skiils and different aims, intentions,
loves and lives.
Without these stories -how would I have any idea how to build my house?
If we all had the same stories -how could I recognise my own house?
If I had to pay for all these stories how could I ever pay for my house?
2.0 Meta-Conceptual Conciderations:
Experience shows that the most important and difficult part of any
problem solving activity is usually the question of how to define the
Perhaps the question is not is copyright "good" or "bad" -but what are the limits of its validity?
To be honest, I don't really care if a bunch of people get together
and decide that they want to introduce a whole raft of copyright laws
for themselves. I don't even really care if people want to go head hunting
-or to spend their lives raping and pillaging. What does concern me -is
what happens to me and those others who do not wish to get involved with those activities?
...Perhaps also the question "What better things are there to do?"?
Is it possible to
live in a world where everybody has the freedom to live as they choose
without upsetting others? If not, then what is the best compromise we
So am I free to choose or reject copyright (or any of its variations or alternatives)?
Personally, I suspect I am not free to decide -and this is what upsets me.
So a basic "problem" is the question of "freedom":
-How does one define freedom and how can one realise it on a global scale?
A second basic problem is more practical:
-How can one discover the undiscovered, imagine the unimagined and think the thought that has not yet been thought of?
(and how will other people understand these thoughts afterwards?)
3.0 Commodified Ownership and Social Control;
Economic activity is firmly rooted in the concept of "ownership". How
can one trade that which one does not own -unless it is stolen? Even a
service economy must assume that an individual "owns" his own time and
is free to sell it in terms of physical and/or mental labour.
The copyright system is based on the concept of the "creator" owning
their creative work,-putting them in a position to exploit this
ownership directly -or by selling it to others who might exploit it
- -What are the social effects of the commercial exploitation of copyright?
- -What happens when the problem of "authorship" becomes problematic?
-Who is the real inventor?
-Who is the author when the interpetation is by the reader?
- -Who is the author when multiple authors colaborate?
-What happens when the concept of "ownership" becomes problematic?
- How public is the public domain?
By "digitizing" printed material the "digitizer" can gain copyright over the material -even if in the public domain)
who "owns" the material? What about the company who made the digitzer?
Huge "leakage" of public money and services to commercial systems who
take advantage of the public system for little payment.
- via exploitation of publicly funded educational and physical communication
International rules of competition demand that international companies
can compete freely
- social practices of public library stopped
because not open to "fair" commercial competition
"Price dumping" by international companies is allowed to undermine local economies
- Who "owns" a cultural community?
- Indigenous cultures easilly become invisible through loss of autonomy and "integration"
- Indigenous cultures are often fragmented and spread over various externally imposed administrative systems
- Indigenous cultures and languages are now becoming recognised and preserved
- The right to "communal property" is now being recognised
- Is "recognition" simply a step towards (a destructive) integration?
- Who has the right to "recognise" indigenous communities (and how did they get this right)?
- Who "owns" a cultural tradition?
- Who is responsible for preserving social rituals that are the last remains of complex cultural interactions?
- Who is responsible for preserving cultural performances that illustrate the cultural roots of many different communities?
- Who has the right to economicaly exploit such traditions?
- How are these traditions to be kept alive, if they cost time and money to present?
- Is there any point in preserving traditions that no longer have any social or economic function?
- Why did these traditions develop and why did they survive for as long as they did?
- Does the recognition of "communal rights" encourage entry into the copyright system?
- Does entry into the copyright system enforce the commodification of culture?
- Do copyright payments enforce entry into the existing global economy?
- How do economic changes affect social and cultural changes?
-What happens when cultural practices becomes problematic?
- Can the communal sharing of tasks, and a reciprocity of work also lead to corrupt "tit for tat" systems?
- How much is "corruption" simply an adaption of local culture to external influences?
- Who defines the standards by which social and cultural practices are evaluated?
- Who decides which cultural practices are acceptable -and which are not?
- Is cultural co-existance possible within the current global political-social-economic system?
-Who or what defines a "Community" -and on which grounds?
(who owns the "Commons"?)
- A national, tribal, class, occupation, caste or family based group?
- A geographic, linguistic, religious or political based group?
- Does it have a commonality of interest?
- Does it have a commonality of practice or belief?
- What happens when the community is geographically dispersed?
- Economic Migrants?
- Imported Ex-pats?
- Arbitrary Colonial inheritance?
- Cultural Enclaves?
- Religious Communities?
- Internet Communities?
- Commercial or Political Organisations?
-How does the populace relate to their (regional or nationa) government?
-As "mass" to be controlled?
-As community to be supported?
-As group to be economically exploited?
-As group to be ignored?
Is "cultural diversity", simply a trick to provide exploitable resources for commercial exploitation?
-How much diversity is desirable (ot possible) before it degenerates into chaos?
4.0 Reconcidering Social Values:
What is the (social) value of Art (and Culture)?
-Acient compilations of existing wisdom financed by local rulers to spread (religious) knowledge
-Original Universities created to accumulate, develop and disseminate knowledge
-Aids personal advancement (in what way)?
-Contributes to social development (in any community)?
-A medium for simulating and exploring social conditions?
-A medium for determining social identity?
-A tool for social conditioning?
-A commodity for commercial exploitation?
What is the (social) value of Aesthetics?
A question of proportion?
- Theory and Practice
- Social and Private
- Order and Disorder
- Freedom and Restraint
- Attack and Defence
- Action and Reaction
- Thesis and Antithesis
Defining "difference" and how to deal with it
What is the (social) value of Knowledge?
- Should access to knowledge be determined by the ability (or willingness) to pay?
How does limiting access to knowledge (in economic grounds) affect communal problem solving?
- Is democratic decison making possible when some people have
better access to knowledge than others (based on their economic power)?
Is knowledge always "power"?
(power for whom)
Is "knowledge" also a form of conditioning and indoctrination?
(is "access to knowledge" always good?)
-need to know everything?
-want to know everything?
-able to know everything?
Do people have different strategies for thinking and learning?
(Practice and Theory)
(Question and Answer)
Do people have different "roles" to play in society?
How does one communicate (without bias or distortion)
complex (or esoteric) ideas
to a mass public (with different belief systems)
who all think, act and feel differently?
Possible problem of "over conceptualisation" by intellectuals with a
highly mediated (and politicised) world-view -when faced with the
pressing practical problems of "other"countries and cultures.
There is an acute danger of the cultural theories and cultural
statistics of those who need to study culture undermining the cultural
existance of those who need live their culture.
An Interest in "preservation" is a danger signaling potential exploitation and perhaps extinction
Do communities really need outside "experts" to explain their problems, histories and their way of life?
What is the (social) value of Economics?
Commercial Systems: Symbiotic or Preditory?
-Economy: balancing need with greed?
(Giving according ot one's abilities, recieving according to one's greed?)
(is there really a "free" market)
(Is a "free" market a "fair"market?)
(do we need reformation -or revolution?
(what alternatives are there?)
Commercial companies act as "creative linguistic systems"
the physical and conceptual "landscape" within which we all live.
-Brain drain in poor countries as (well trained) immigrants support US economy (and the other "developed" countries)
- increasing the developmental differential
- producing products that many cannot afford
- creating new commercial "lifestyles" that can be promoted worldwide
-Urban Shift as poor move into cities or go abroad looking for work
-Urban displacement as reletively well paid techno-workers push out poorer workers
- destroying social communities
- creating cultural confusion
- undermining resistance to (unhealthy) consumer products
-Selling a foreign owned company to another foreign owned company can avoid local taxes
-Repatriated money "dies" (is no longer available to the source country -only the "investing" country)
(do we want these changes?)
(do we have a choice?)
How do political democracy and economic democracy relate to us and to each other?
(Who has the "right" to speak for others?)
In a social partnership are
the "stakeholders" trully representative
-or are they self-appointed
The Game of Supply Push and Consumer Pul
If an Economy is a game of action and reaction between supply and demand.
Then, like any game, the outcome is dependant on the rules of the game.
So, do the rules of the game favour an outcome
that is consistant with the needs of the comminity
-or does the game only favour certain players?
There is a huge difference globally between the cost of products in terms of "time worked" to buy any specific product.
-In one town 10 months deposit to rent a house -in another town 2 months deposit.
(Interest on loans and rent costs reflect ratio between those who have capital and those who don't)
When very young or very old -one is unable to earn ones cost of living
-but the costs remain the same, independant of ones ability to pay.
(need for diferential payment system for basic essentials of life?)
Tangable labour (physical work) is paid just once -but intangible
labour Conceptualy creative work) is paid multiple times
original creator may get less than the "rights holder")
Like any game, the rules are defined by:
- Physical characteristics of materials used in the game
- Mental and Physical limitations of the players
- Arbitrary rules that are specific to the game (and define it)
What are the rules of the game, who defines them -and with what right?
the Financial Crisis is a window of oportunity for changing the rules
What is the (social) value of Publishing?
- What is a Publisher?
Publishers need to find ways to attract attention in a world full of media products
South Africa is developing new business models
-involving free on-line "content" while publishing hard-copy commercially for profit
(Does this have a bias against those who cannot afford an "on-line presence"-iether as publisher or client?)
- The publisher as interface/search engine?
(publisher as "commercial information hunter/gatherer"?
- -what happens
to "information" farmers?
- -what happens to "real" farmers?)
- The search engine as publisher?
Google is getting rights to make a data-base and will pay authors -thus gaining monopoly to operate asacollecting agency?
- There is a need to investigate the money flow with regards to scientific publications
What is the (social) value of Copyright?
A (considerable) source of income for those who buy and exploit creative products.
Who owns and controls the "information" flow? (who makes a profit from it?)
emerging "information landlords" (who own the infromation)
cyber lords (who own the communcation networks -sometimes both network and "content")
now people producing own "content" (for free) via blogs and social networking sites.
If copyright is a form of "income distribution" -then in which directions is the income distributed?
The collecting agencies make a profit
The distributer make a profit
The tax system
makes a profit
A few "international" artists make a profit.
In practice, few
artists (worldwide) get a reasonable income from copyright.
"publisher" usually owns the copyright.
Is it a bad system -or just badly
(structural or incidental failure?)
patents and copyright protecting commercial brand names promote interests of global companies
Various local conditions in different countries are being undermined
through global exploitation
(national aspirations -human rights)
Dominating giant commercial dinasaurs prevent cultural diversity
through global marketing of local products after converting them into
standardised international commodities, often at prices which the
original producers cannot afford to pay.
When Intellectual Property law is introduced by external agencies into counties with no internal historical IP tradition (or
perhaps even opposing traditions) the perception, language and
policies get dictated by the global IP industry.
Social, economic and cultural Protection
-for whom, against what?
For the author, "moral rights" can be more important than "economic monopoly rights"
-assertion of authorship
-preserving integrity of text
-preserving the right not to be published
-preventing unwanted appropriation (and exploitation)?
-preventing unwanted cherry picking?
-Perhaps similar system needed for social groups:
-preventing unwanted external interference with self-determination?
-preventing unwanted external interference with internal social structure?
-how does one protect "good" things and prevent "bad" things (censorship)?
(who makes decision and how?)
- -limitations on interference from global political or commercial systems
- -shared communal systems which limit individualistic competition
- -alternatives to the "nation state"
How should artists, intellectuals, shamans, etc. be paid?
-What drives these people?
Who profits most from their skills?
(in what way?)
(Can one copyright a political system -and charge people for using it?)
What is the (social) value of Piracy?
Difficult to discuss without adopting
the language and concepts pre-defined in the discourse established by
the proponents of "Intellual Property".
- Does "illegality" have a valuable role in testing the validity and limits of socially accepted norms?
Do pirates (literally and metaphorically) have a social value?
- -providing income for those that normally would have none?
- -developing (experimentsl) social structures that are forbidden by "normal"practice?
- -how can society evolve if social experimentation is severely limited (for whatever reason)?
- -how did the current "economic elite" get its "start capital"?
- When did government sponsored "privaters" (Francis Drake) become outlawed "pirates"?
- As a "developing" country the US was once strongly opposed to copyright and patents
- Perhaps your "pirate" is my "freedom fighter"
- IP piracy doesn't cost rights owner real money -just fictional income
- IP piracy may increase interest in, and sales of, authorised product.
- In many poor countries, the cost of imported branded and copyrighted goods are prohibitive
4.0 The Question of Choice:
What is there left to choose in a Democracy?
Surely, democratic choice implies some
level of Political and cultural Self-determination (depending on the
scale of the political unit concerned -ie. national, regional, tribal,
organisational). Without the freedom of self-determination, (and the
right to deviate from other social-economic systems) what is there left
to chose from?
Culture: "Tool" or "Commodity"?
What is trully the social and cultural value of "art"? (what do we mean by these terms?)
Does separating "cultural" values from "economic" values undermine culture as a living set of responses to local conditions?
Could "culture" actually be a conceptual and practical response to
local "economic" conditions -which by separating the two
(paradoxically) reduces "culture" to a non-functional "lifestyle"
product that can easily be commodified?
How does one decide which artistic/intellectual/social activites have
value -and deserve social support (or other forms of "special
Accepting Multiple "realities:
What are the characteristics of the "reality" that a community constructs for itself?
(how is that "reality" experienced)
(how does this "reality" relate to others in the vicinity?)
Interfacng Multiple Ontologies:
Problem of interfacing different conceptual/cultural systems
-Breaking through the conceptual barriers imposed by language ansd social conditioning.....
Difficulty in finding the language to express the various problems in a
way that permits a coordinated understanding and approach -without
forcing everything into a potentially innapropriate pre-concieved
Under what conditions is something valid?
How does a phenomenon impact upon (interact with) different environments?
Trevor Batten, Manila January 2009