Major controversy has erupted after the French and Argentinian governments went after a philosophy professor for popularizing Spanish translations of philosophical texts. Prof. Horacio Potel is accused of violating “intellectual property rights” and faces a prison term of one month to six years. Much of the discussion is in Spanish and therefore inaccessible to the English-speaking world. Here’s a translation of one report from the Spanish-language online newspaper Clarin.com
February 28, 2009
France intervened to shut down an Argentinian site popularizing philosophical works
It acted through the Book Chamber. The site posted Derrida texts. Solidarity support on the Facebook network.
By Andres Hax
Derrida, the French author who shaped the thinking of the last thirty years with key works like “politics of friendship” and “the writing and the difference”, among others.
In the late nineties, when the Internet was completely novel, professor of philosophy at the University of Lanús, Horacio Potel, began posting texts of Friedrich Nietzsche at a personal site. In his words, it was a non-profit publishing and stewardship effort. Soon he added two more sites, with texts by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and the Frenchman Jacques Derrida. This tiny digital library – which also includes biographies, links and essays – has been consulted, according to his logs, by more than four million people since its inception and ranks high among search engines: in Google, if you type Jacques Derrida Argentina, the first hit is the Wikipedia entry and the second is the former site of Potel, www.jacquesderrida.com.ar.
For Potel, this laboriously-compiled collection has become a nightmare: after the intervention of the French Embassy in Argentina, a criminal case filed by the Argentina Book Chamber for violation of Intellectual Property Law 11.723 has forced him to take down the Derrida texts from his site and deal and face a possible “prison term ranging from one month to six years.”
The charge against Potel cites the law prohibiting the “editing, selling or reproduction by any means or in any medium, a published or unpublished work without permission from its author or his heirs.” The legal language is not debatable. Having posted online Derrida’s texts – protected by copyright – Potel infringed on copyrights. “This law exists to protect cultural works,” says Carlos de Santos, president of the Argentina Book Chamber, to Clarin. “The Chamber has always acted in defense of intellectual property rights. Without intellectual property rights, publications cannot possibly exist. And I believe the possibilities for intellectual work will be less,” he concluded.
The Argentina Book Chamber’s case was initiated by a complaint from Derrida’s publisher (Les Editions de Minuit) and the intervention of the French Embassy in Buenos Aires. According to cultural attaché Jean-François Gueganno “The gold standard in these cases is intellectual property. If you write a piece, you own the text and nobody can post them on a site to be accessed freely without the author’s consent”. Potel defends himself: “It was never my intention to make a profit. In 1999 I was fascinated by the unlimited possibilities the network offered for knowledge exchange. These sites are a lot of work for me and it is a tragedy for me that I have to remove them.”
The case has provoked widespread protest in cyberspace, highlighting the gray area between popularization and piracy. On the Potel page in Facebook, hundreds of users worldwide have expressed outrage at the “censorship”. One user summed up the opinion of the cyber-citizens: “What is happening is an outrage to the culture of human rights. An obscene display of the mechanisms of control, surveillance and punishment.”