The CopySouth Research Group (CSRG) is a transnational and interdisciplinary group who met for its third workshop June 28-30, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro. Since its inception in 2004, the CSRG has sought to bring together activists and academics from around the world, including participants from Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, USA, Ghana, South Africa, UK, Switzerland, the Philippines, to discuss the impact of copyright on the global south. The meeting in Rio followed in this tradition, with each participant presenting a paper focused on the issues of copyright as it relates to the global south. Funding for the CopySouth Rio conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom) and Hivos (Netherlands).
It is an important moment to discuss these issues. In 1710 – exactly three hundred years ago – the first copyright law in the world was enacted in England. Is this an anniversary worth celebrating? Around the world, the antiquated assumptions of copyright law and ideology are again being questioned and new conflicts are breaking out. In Brazil, for example, more than 500 musicians, writers, academics and others signed an open letter in late May calling on their government to reform its copyright laws so that users can have more access to music and books. Meanwhile, the well-financed campaign against so-called copyright “piracy” has become even more vocal and threatens us all… except large corporations. Although three of the most important countries in the global South – China, India and Brazil – were not even invited to the talks, a new anti-piracy treaty called ACTA is about to be signed by rich nations in North America and Europe, as well as Japan and a few smaller countries.
As the precursor to the 2010 copysouth meeting, a list of long-standing and complex questions is demanding new answers. Do most musicians benefit from the copyright system and the current way that the music industry is organised? How can we promote far more access to educational materials in the countries of South America, Africa and Asia than already exists? And, speaking of access and sharing, why do so many ideas and so many cultural products flow from the North to the South… and why do so few flow the other way? Can we justify the current economic logic of the global copyright system? And what are viable alternatives to the current system?
While opinions regarding the impact of copyright and its ultimate fate varied widely across those present at the workshop, in general the approach taken by those working with the CSRG take a critical position regarding copyright. The arguments presented at the workshop suggest that the overall affect of copyright policy has been negative for the global south.
The following papers, as well as the conference itself, were organized into a series of themes. We turn first to the general issue of cultural flows between the north and the south. Central to issues of copyright are the ways in which those controlling policymaking are able to define concepts such as piracy within the context of copyright policy. Debora Halbert argues in her paper that despite the prevailing assumption that culture flows southward from the north, and that piracy defines the relationship between cultural producers and consumers, it is essential to understand the importance of cultural flows in all directions and establish a legal framework that does not punish the flow of culture but rather facilitates it. Lillian Alvarez discusses in her paper the importance cultural diversity and the experiences in Cuba seeking to defend cultural diversity. One of the more recent cases coming out of the United States that will affect access to knowledge is the Google Books settlement, the subject of Alan Story’s piece. Story places the Googlization of everying under a critical lens and seeks to position our understanding of Google books within the larger context of access to knowledge. Juan Carlos Cordero and Mat Callahan both professional musicians who understand the copyright system as it impacts the creation of music, have written papers helping to elaborate on the negative impact of copyright law for music, both historically and in the future. Finally, there are a series of excellent papers taking up copyright from a political economy perspective. Darch, Dantas, Vianna, and Verzola each subject copyright to an analysis that suggests it lacks when factors such as abundance, access to knowledge, and social justice are part of the analysis.
All told, the papers presented at the conference represent an ongoing debate about the scope of copyright law. As part of our effort to share the ideas presented at the workshop as widely as possible with our already constituted network of copyright scholars and activists, as well as all others interested in the issues relevant to a global critique of the copyright system, we are very excited to make the papers presented at the workshop available on our website. Currently, the papers are only available in the language within which they were written. We hope to have all papers available in the three workshop languages at some point – English, Spanish and Portuguese. We also hope to have a video of the workshop proceedings available for viewing and downloading shortly.