Tag Archives: copyright

Horacio Potel’s Derrida site shut down, but available on Internet Archive

According to a U.S.-based Brazilian literature professor who has expressed solidarity with Argentinian philosophy professor Horacio Potel (see the full Potel story here), the complete Derrida site of Potel is still available from the archiving project called Internet Archive. Hence, those who still want to access the Derrida site, which had been shut down by the Argentinian authorities, may do so from this address:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071010073159/www.jacquesderrida.com.ar/

Potel’s Heidegger site, which had also been shut down, is likewise available on this new address:

http://web.archive.org/web/20080211104832/www.heideggeriana.com.ar/

Here’s my translation of the original letter of support in Spanish of Prof. Idelber Avelar address to Prof. Horacio Potel. Avelar describes how Potel’s Derrida and Heidegger sites have been preserved by the Internet Archive project, as well as by other bloggers through Easy Share, which enables Internet users to download the zip-archived version of Potel’s sites.

Dear Professor Horacio Potel:

I speak to you as a Brazilian, a literature professor in New Orleans (who has, in fact, done some work on the literature of Argentina), and a blogger. I would like, first of all, to extend to you all my sympathy for the horror caused by the insane application of the anachronistic copyright law. I am at your service for whatever help I can extend. In the Brazilian blogosphere, we have accumulated some experience in fighting attempts to censor the Internet.

Your work has already been archived in some servers, and the purpose of this letter is to offer you guidance over these archives. Everything that was once part of the Internet stays preserved on the Internet Archive, and the material can only be taken out of the Wayback Machine if the responsible person allows it. Thus, the Heidegger and Derrida websites are still available there. They are here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071010073159/www.jacquesderrida.com.ar/

http://web.archive.org/web/20080211104832/www.heideggeriana.com.ar/

Of course, it is possible for them to file a new case to remove the material from the Internet Archive. But not just anyone can request to do so. You must be legally compelled to permit the removal. It is possible for them to do this, of course, so I and some other Brazilian bloggers, like Catatau and Nodari, have also replicated your work in Easy Share, in a downloadable zip file format. Here is the link:

http://www.easy-share.com/1904410914/derridaheidegger.zip

It would be interesting to discuss the difference between a link and a text with Minuit and CAL [the Argentinian Book Chamber—tr.] in the courts, especially with the entire Derrida archives for citation. I repeat: there are several precedents of similar attempts at censorship and of the considerable success of the forces that resist them. So you are not alone. Tell us what you need.

Best wishes, and in solidarity,

Idelber Avelar

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Prof may go to jail for popularizing philosophical works

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.”

(See original story in Spanish here: http://www.clarin.com/diario/2009/02/28/sociedad/s-01867515.htm)

Three meanings of “free”: after “free beer” and “free speech”, “free the Internet”

I have come across free software advocates who want to expand the range of their social causes and get involved in reforming society itself.

I hope they are already aware of at least three meanings of “free”. This is a friendly reminder if they’re not. Free software advocates are generally familiar with the first two: “free” as in “free beer”, and “free” as in “free speech”. Enough has been said about these two meanings.

There’s a third meaning, and a free software activist who wants to become a social activist should be aware of this one: “free” as in “free all political prisoners”.

In contrast to “free speech”, the third meaning also highlights the current lack of freedom and asserts that this situation must be corrected immediately. The third meaning is fraught with connotations of action and activism. When social activists use the word “free”, it is probably the third meaning they have in mind, with possibly the second meaning. “Free speech” is a somewhat general and almost a motherhood statement. “Free all political prisoners” carries a certain urgency. It is, for instance, pointless to demand “free Mandela” today. He has been out of prison for years. This meaning of “free” suggests a time frame, a demand with a deadline. (By the way, I was a political prisoner in the 1970s.)

A second reminder to free software advocates. Do not presume that once all software is “free”, your work is done. Some free software are more free than others. The BSD license is more free than the GPL. A number of free software licenses, and Creative Commons likewise, rely on the existing copyright system for enforcement. This means that many free software (and Creative Commons) advocates become defenders of copyrights. Once you become a copyright defender, you gain some friends (like the software, music, video, book and publishing industries) and lose other friends (like many social activists, though by no means all). Please think carefully through the implications of copyrights. Check, for instance, the Copyright Dossier by the CopySouth Research Group (CSRG).

A third and final reminder. Most free software advocates are Internet and information and communications technology missionaries. They love the technology and want everyone to embrace it. Please be aware, however, that the Internet today carries some very deeply-embedded biases (ideologies, if you will), which force themselves on all users. And some of these biases are in conflict with fundamental principles strongly held by many social activists. Though I know of more, I will cite only three: the bias for English, the bias for automation, and the bias for globalization. The first two are quite obvious (and will also be subjects for future posts).

The third may need a bit more explanation.

The Internet forces local players to subsidize global players, a bias that is deeply embedded in the technology. This subsidy comes from the simple fact that files sent to a “neighbor” (another user on the same ISP, i.e., local) are charged the same rate as files sent to distant users (say, subscribers on ISPs on the other side of the globe). This is precisely the “advantage” of the Internet, its selling point: the abolition of distance. Everything has become “local”. Yet, local file transfers use very few network resources, while international file transfers use quite a lot — several routers, perhaps undersea cables connecting continents, plus more routers near the destination. In short, local files are charged higher per network resource, compared to global files. The local subsidizes the global — a subsidy for globalization. This is a fundamental injustice — institutionalized theft, even — that lies at the heart of the Internet. Many of the so-called “advantages” and “benefits” of the medium are based on this built-in double-standard.

There is another way by which the Internet forces the poorer local users to subsidize the richer global users. This comes from the growth pattern of the Internet infrastructure of hosts and communication lines.

The Internet grows from the center to the periphery. But very often, the costs of the new communication links, the ports, the leased lines, and all the associated hardware and software infrastructure, are fully paid for by the periphery, in addition to the various one-time and monthly fees charged by the center. Yet, while the periphery requesting the connection shoulders its full cost, both sides benefit from the connection, the center possibly getting even more benefits because it has more users. In short, there is again a hidden subsidy for the center by the periphery. This occurred when the Philippines made its first Internet connection to the U.S. in 1994. It also occurred with other Philippine cities made their Internet connection to Manila. And again, when various towns connected to these cities. And this lopsided charging scheme continues today.

These bizarre subsidies for the rich by the poor will presumably be in place for all time, unless the free software movement and other social movements work successfully to “free the Internet” from these gross injustices.

This is what the third meaning of “free” is all about.

A meeting of copyright researchers and activists

I just attended the December 6-10 meeting in Kerala, India of the CopySouth Research Group (CSRG), an international network of copyright researchers and activists. The discussions were intense but cordial. We were all critical of the current state of copyright laws and regulations, which had become so restrictive that the copyright regime was becoming a major obstacle to access to knowledge. This was happening not only in scientific circles, where journals have established monopolistic practices over scientific research articles, but also in schools and universities, where photocopying by students and teachers was being criminalized. In subsequent posts, I will cover some of the ideas discussed in the meeting.

For this post, I want to focus on an interesting point about alternatives to the existing copyright regime. These ranged from Creative Commons, an idea which has been adopted in many parts of the world, free/open source software, to proposals to abolish the copyright system itself because it creates monopolies over cultural expressions. Given the range of proposals, it is easy to imagine how intense the debates were.

I eventually realized that some of the debates could have been avoided.

To see why this was so, consider the construction of a house. We could debate the architectural approach, the placement of rooms, the choice of building materials, etc. etc. In the course of building the house, we need to build scaffoldings. Art as well as science is involved in building a house. Also in building the scaffolding. But the requirements of the scaffolding are different from the requirements of the house itself. The criteria for a good house are different from a good scaffolding. Most important of all, the scaffoldings have to be torn down, when the house is ready to be used.

Some of the alternatives proposed to the copyright system are actually scaffoldings. Others are part of the house itself. Thus it makes no sense to debate whether the house is better than the scaffolding.

Alternatives like compulsory licensing, Creative Commons and the free software version called Gnu Public License (GPL) are often criticized because they will work only under the present copyright system and therefore require their advocates to defend the current system. They therefore find themselves at odds with more radical proponents who want to abolish the copyright system itself and replace it with another which does not create monopolies over ideas or their expressions.

But if the two sides realized that they are actually looking at the scaffolding and the house, they will quickly realize that the debate was unnecessary.

Compulsory licensing, Creating Commons, and GPL will reinforce the culture of free copying, sharing and exchange that will eventually lead to the collapse of the current copyright system, giving way to non-monopolistic alternatives to encouraging creative work and rewarding intellectual activity.

Guess who was the world’s top pirate of intellectual property in the 18th and 19th centuries

[This piece appears as Chapter 3 of my book Towards a Political Economy of Information, published in 2004. I am posting it here because of current efforts by the U.S. and other advanced countries to tighten even further what is already a very strict global intellectual property protectionist regime.]

U.S. piracy in the 19th century


Nineteenth century America was a major center of piracy. The principal target of U.S. pirates was the rich variety of British books and periodicals. The U.S. was a perennial headache among British authors and publishers, because foreign authors had no rights in America. American publishers and printers, led by Harpers of New York and Careys of Philadelphia, routinely violated British copyright and “reprinted a very wide range of British publications.”

James Barnes, who wrote an excellent book on this subject (Authors, Publishers and Politicians: The quest for an Anglo-American copyright agreement 1815-1854, Ohio State University Press, 1974), said that the Americans were “suspicious about international copyright,” and were afraid that recognizing international copyright meant “exploitation and domination of their book trade.” Barnes noted that “as a young nation, the United States wanted the freedom to borrow literature as well as technology from any quarter of the globe, and it was not until 1891 that Congress finally recognized America’s literary independence by authorizing reciprocal copyright agreements with foreign powers.”

Throughout the 19th century, a group of American authors and Anglophiles led a persistent but futile campaign to get a copyright treaty between the U.S. and Britain ratified. But their efforts were overcome by a much stronger lobby for free access to British publications. Authors like Noah Webster of the U.S. and Charles Dickens of Britain campaigned vigorously, but time and again, the U.S. Senate rejected proposed laws or treaties that would have granted copyright to foreign authors in the U.S.

Indeed, strong laws existed for the protection of local authors, but foreign authors had no rights in the U.S., and all foreign works were fair game for American publishers and printers.

As Barnes put it, “If Americans thought of the topic [i.e., copyrights] at all they were concerned with protecting domestic copyright and not the rights of foreigners. As a country, nineteenth-century America was akin to a present-day underdeveloped nation which recognizes its dependence on those more commercially and technologically advanced, and desires the fruits of civilization in the cheapest and most convenient ways. Reprinting English literature seemed easy and inexpensive, and so America borrowed voraciously.”

Barnes continued: “In 1831, ‘An Act to Amend the Several Acts Respecting Copyrights’ was signed. It extended the copyright term from fourteen to twenty-eight years, with the option of renewal for an additional fourteen. If an author died, his widow or children could apply for the extension. For the first time, the law allowed musical compositions to be copyrighted. But not a word on international copyright. In fact, foreign authors were explicitly barred from protection, which in essence safeguarded reprints.”

Even the U.S. president at that time, John Quincy Adams, was himself “strongly opposed to international copyright.”