Copyrighting jeopardizes culture

PRAVDA.Ru recently interviewed Alexander Sergeyev – the content-editor of Internet World magazine and one of the founders of the iFREE initiative. This initiative is meant to attract attention to the issue of freedom of information and to remind that it was the freedom that every one of us had. Anyone can join this initiative – both natural personas and organizations, press and electronic mass media. The authors of the initiative are sure that the present situation regarding copyrights is the biggest threat to the culture in the era of the informational society. The manifest of this organization says: “The distribution of the information is artificially restricted with irresistible financial or legal obstacles. As a result, the creation beyond corporate borders, which provide legal and financial support, is doomed to be either illegitimate or marginal.” PRAVDA.Ru’s correspondent asked several questions to Alexander Sergeyev.

What is the reason for the initiative iFREE? Was it a certain event or the general impression of trouble?

I have had the impression of trouble since 1997. This was the time when I came to realization of the fact that the copyright law was of the discriminating character. I have repeatedly expressed my criticism of the functioning copyright conception since then, because there are too many limits imposed on freedom of exchange of information. Those restrictions break the normal stream of cultural processes, which actually results in the fact that a complicated culture is substituted with more sophisticated systems to manipulate mass tastes. The actual incitement to set up the iFREE initiative was the Budapest Open Access Initiative, or BOAI. This is an attempt to make the information, which is published in scientific magazines, open to general use. Access to this information is limited with incredible subscribtions fees: thousands of dollars. I realized that it was not only me who was concerned about the restriction of freedom of information; I realized that one has to attract people’s attention to it.

Copyrighting is rather a young notion; it is not even 300 years old, with the exception for the Statute of Queen Anna of 1710, but now it has already been pronounced a major threat to culture in the era of the informational society. Do you think that this assertion is too strong?

As a matter of fact, the Statute of Queen Anna was not the first step in the development of copyrighting. The Statute of Queen Mary appeared 150 years before, in 1557, but people do not recall it often, really. This statute instituted printers’ monopoly rights for the replication of works that had already been produced if those works went through censorship. That was pure copyright. The author’s rights and the Statute of Queen Anna came up as a result of authors’ struggle for their interests. Speaking about the cultural threat, a copyright stipulates the principal division of all people: authors and consumers of culture. But this division contradicts modern tendencies of art and scientific development. Traditional forms of authors’ creativity are certainly preserved, but there is another culture against this background, which is gaining more and more significance. This is a non-author culture: fan-clubs, public discussions, television conferences, and cyber-projects with variable participants. Non-author culture has always existed, for example, in the form of folklore. However, its major distinction from authors’ culture is the absence of the strict division for authors and consumers. It is more about participants and leaders. When typography, audio recording, radio, and television appeared, the non-author culture went into the background, because only professional authors and editors could properly organize expensive printings and on-air time, which was also rather expensive.

The Internet opens up absolutely new opportunities for the development of the non-author culture. The present copyright law gives a huge advantage to the author culture in comparison with the non-author culture. It provides an efficient method for assignment of cultural values, restricting the public access to them. However, the non-author culture is the future. There is no need to think that the non-author culture will necessarily become marginal.

Copyrighting cannot be free in post-Soviet Russia. But now there is something like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 (DMCA) already in Russia – amendments to the Federal law “on copyrights.” These amendments stipulate for the responsibility for avoiding technical means of copyright protection and for the production and distribution of means that are used to avoid or ease the ways to avoid protection means. What if these amendments are approved?

If they are approved, then our law will be a lot worse than in America, where it looks like of a totalitarian country, from the point of view of the freedom of distribution of the information. Now, they are discussing another bill in the USA – concerning the prohibition of producing and selling appliances and software that are not equipped with built-in means of control of the copyright and legal information. I have recently learnt that several companies are trying to legally prohibit links that are not to the front pages of their sites, since it might lead to the fact that the visitor might have a different impression than intended and not what the author of the site originally planned. It did not occur to anyone during the Soviet era to prohibit making references to certain book pages. However, there is apparently someone who does not like this practice. The more bans you have, the more you can make from it. This scheme is very easy; it has been practiced since the inquisition: we ban something publicly, it can be a moral, legal, or political ban, and then we start selling pardons.

Let’s talk about the political constituent of the problem. The state is trying to take the Internet under its control. This does not seem to be meant for the protection of someone’s copyright.

Yes, the issue of freedom of information is not limited with the copyright problem. There has been a tendency showing in the world after the acts of terrorism of September 11th: to restrict the freedom of the distribution of information. The Russian State Duma is working on the law about the struggle with extremism. Article 13 of the law actually prohibits non-moderated chats and forums on the net. The objective of this law is certainly good, as it was announced by the authors of the bill: to prevent extremist propaganda on the Internet. As a matter of fact, this article will be very good to extremists. There will be a controversy, remember those attempts to block opposition sites before the presidential elections in Belarus? They created some difficulties for them, of course, but they also provided them with perfect PR at the expense of the state. The same can happen to extremists. Their sites do not have a lot of visitors now. This wish to set up moderation for forums testifies to lawmakers’ distrust to their own people.

How do you understand the freedom of information? Which restrictions can be made and which ones cannot?

This is the hardest question. The field of information rights is the territory of compromises. There are no knowingly correct or eternal norms there. You have to take account of the current circumstances, making any decision. The same can be said about other informational freedoms. The contradictory character of the informational right is discovered in such fundamental documents as the European convention for human rights and others. On the one hand, they acknowledge the right of every human being for private life respect, on the other hand, they guarantee the freedom of expression of private life, distribution of information by all means. Here is another interesting idea: pursuant to the mentioned fundamental rights, information can be confidential or available to all. Confidential information is accessible to certain people only, and they are responsible for its divulgence. This state of things is the ideal freedom of information, as I think.

What do you think is the compromise between authors, copyright owners, (corporations) and viewers, readers, listeners, and users (the public)?

I can see a lot of different variants. They could cut the term of copyright protection at first. Now, they are protected for the period of 50 years after author’s death, but this term is going to be extended up to 70 years. They surely are doing this for profit, but why not making this term just several years after a work has been published? I also think about the considerable reduction of author’s role. There is another kind of a cultural figure taking shape now, but there is no notion for this word yet. I use the notion of access provider to the cultural environment, a cultural provider so to speak. This is like a stalker of culture. This provider renders services to people, helping them to get used to the changing culture.

Will you tell us about the development of the iFREE initiative for the nearest and remote future?

The iFREE initiative is not just a publication of its manifest on the Internet. This is not a one-moment action. We will regularly publish articles in our Internet World magazine in the support of freedom of the distribution of information. Those articles will touch upon not only the issues of copyright, but also other restrictions of the freedom of information. Articles will be marked as iFREE and it will be possible to distribute them, preserving iFREE logo and giving a link to the manifest. I hope that this logo will soon become recognizable. I do not believe that it is very actual to think about remote future: each action has a certain life-span, when one of them comes to its end, another one starts. The main thing here is to have a growing number of people who is concerned about the problem of informational freedom.

Alexander Sergeyev was interviewed by Andrey Lubensky PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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