A Culture to Share

How often do we share an artistic work of art to appreciate and give credit to the creative minds behind it? How often do we improve and incorporate a new idea to something that has been done by someone else? How often do we sing and dance to someone else’s music?

Youtube for videos. Flickr for images. Soundcloud for music. Since the boom of modern digital technology, I have, without guilt, abused these websites to make my everyday life feel a little better. If I want music, or scroll through breath-taking pictures, or watch a funny video, I can have them in a blink of an eye (depending on the speed of my internet connection, of course).  I can appreciate what life has to offer and enjoy the works of people I don’t personally know. Thank God they are for free. Thank God they are under Creative Commons.

One thing you can ask, what is Creative Commons?

According to their website, “Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.” They provide licenses which gives permission to the public to share and use the works of individuals limited only by certain conditions upon the discretion of the owner, changing the default term of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved” or none rights reserved at all.

Works that are published under a Creative Commons license carry with them the permission granting the public to modify or use their work subject to a very few conditions set by the author. It encourages the art of sharing such information without the fear of risk of being subject to the laws of copyright.

Different licenses are available for the owners. The licenses range from allowing you to do anything with the copyrighted work to limiting the work to non-derivative or non-commercial purposes, as long as the original works are credited for the original versions.

It is their goal to provide a free, public and standardized device to maximize the ability and purpose of the Internet and create a balance of such goal with the laws in our system,  particularly the copyright laws. It is their aim to promote universal access to research and education to promote development, growth and productivity.

No doubt, the purpose of this organization is ideal, yet possible.

Honestly, this is a topic in our Technology and the Law subject which has most effectively grabbed my attention and curiosity. In a world where restrictions come in forms of laws, except for the fact that it does confer us rights and remedies for our redress, will its purpose and principles survive and attain victory? Will it succeed in a world where money controls almost everything? Is the idea of universal access to research and education possible with this kind of culture?

UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO RESEARCH AND EDUCATION

We were made to watch this video entitled, “Conferencia de Lawrence Lessig: Leyes que limitan la creatividad” published on Youtube last August 30, 2013.

Usually, watching lectures makes me cringe as I have shorter attention span than anybody else, especially if the topic does not interest me. However, this video lands on one of the exceptions to my so-called general rule as the speaker did not only provide visual and audio materials in delivering his speech but also the topic and statements are something that is in line with my personal ideas, principles, ideologies or whatever you want to call it.

Lawrence Lessig, a founding member of the Creative Commons, started his speech by emphasizing that “we share too little from our culture; we need to share more”. Our own society and its laws make us share with the public too little of our works and information and that the law should let us share more of these. I concur with what he said that our culture is hanging and that this change should be linked to how expression and creativity are starting to evolve and become more reactive to their environment. The society nowadays refuses to be passive unlike before where the people strictly abide with the rules and just go with the flow, controlled by powerful factors such as the government and media. It is indeed a good opportunity to encourage development of creativity and progress with respect to levels of information and innovative products.

The speaker shares with us his belief that sharing must not be restricted and used the culture of remixing as a specific example. He said, “the remix is a time-honored tradition of creative call that ask culture to respond”. We have encountered many remixed versions of our favorite songs in the past and it, indeed, whether you like it or not, brings out the creativity of the author of such remix to modify and sometimes improve the original work. Many songs done in the so-called pop culture has been shifting from one genre to another. It may be the same in one aspect but may be different altogether.

Also, he mentioned how the issue on copyright connects to culture. He said that the law itself needs to deregulate culture wherein it makes sense and not where it makes no good. The responses that we get in the form of parodies, remixed versions and works in different forms are signs that we are in a culture that is responsive and not passive. I agree that it is a good sign of “positive change” as we directly participates and do not merely conform on what was already structured by our society. We are learning how to think independently to make such change productive and beneficial for our growth and development. This, as he said, should be a culture where people are empowered to participate with the help of technology, pursuant to reasonable laws and order.

These organizations, such as the Creative Commons aims for the production and use of technology which is not restricted to a specific medium, but rather, allow the production of amateur works. This concept encourages wider range of creativity, diversity of both professional and amateur and lessens discrimination on who can avail of such information. It minimizes the prejudice and wrongs of the society which is depriving the majority of the right to appreciate and learn through free legal tools that are available.

He handles the criticism of such idea with a statement, “Even if you don’t think it’s good, the question is, by what right we stop change? What harm is to be done if cultural policy will encourage creators to create for the love of creating rather than money. One doctrine he is insisting is the concept of fair use. He said, “It means to justify your control, it does not make sense for the law to give you the right to stop me from remixing your work.” Finally he says that our rights are viewed wrong elsewhere in the world, thus the creation of such laws which supress that constitutionally protected right.

I think what the speaker is pursuing here is that the society needs is a sensible intellectual property law which does not prohibit the use and modification of the original work, rather it should be a law which encourages people to improve what was already out in the public. Come to think of it, Romeo and Juliet is a modified work of a Metamorphoses story. Disney films also modified fairy tales which were already out in public. Sometimes, the art of modifying does positive things to the public. If not s equally good as the original work, they turn out as a better version than the old one.

During the “question and answer” portion, Lessig shared that the mayor of Buenos Aires has been contacting them for the project to make government data openly accessible. This move, indeed could build public trust and accountability inside a country. This can also be applied to our dear motherland, the Philippines. Amidst the issue on corruption here in the Philippines, where people are seeking, lobbying and rallying for different bills that would advocate transparency, accountability and honesty in government service.

Finally, the author said that Creative Commons is not the solution rather; it shows the world what we can do to fight for our freedom to create. The respect for the creator under Creative Commons were not borne out of laws, but with the values instilled by the organization. He encourage the audience to define what is the role of the citizens. He acknowledge the role of social activists and organizations in ther fight against repressive laws, such as the SOPA and PIPA, which awakens the morality of the people wherein they defended their right to take hold of their country’s path to success.

IP LAW IN THE PHILIPPINES

Now, we can never fully grasp a concept without applying it to our own experiences. Why should we go far when such restrictions are actually evident in our own laws? For instance, the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, also known as Republic Act No. 8293, was amended by the passing of the Republic Act 10372 which was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III last February 28, 2013.

Section 190.1 and 190.2 of the old law states that an individual may be permitted to import a copyrighted work without any permission from the author as long as it is for his personal purposes and it is under the specific circumstances narrated by the law, which includes the factors such as availability of the copyrighted work, limitation on the number of articles to be imported, the use of the product for non-commercial purposes, and whether such products are belong to families arriving from foreign countries.

The new law erased such provisions in their entirety.

Cagayan De Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, one of the principal authors of the law, made a clarification in his interview with the Philippine Star last March 8, 2013. He stated that the deletion of the two provisions does not mean that the new law bands the importation of copyrighted products, instead, it means that it ceases to limit the entry of these products provided that they are for PERSONAL USE and that the new law allows RELIGIOUS, CHARITABLE AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS to import more copies as long as it is not constitute copyright infringement or they are not pirated copies. (emphasis supplied)

As I scan through the new law, only two provisions are left assuring rights to religious, charitable and educational institutions, to wit:

Section 184. Limitations on Copyright. – 184.1. Notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter V, the following acts shall not constitute infringement of copyright:

(a) The recitation or performance of a work, once it has been lawfully made accessible to the public, if done privately and free of charge or if made strictly for a charitable or religious institution or society; (Sec. 10(1), P.D. No. 49)

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(c) The reproduction or communication to the public by mass media of articles on current political, social, economic, scientific or religious topic, lectures, addresses and other works of the same nature, which are delivered in public if such use is for information purposes and has not been expressly reserved: Provided, That the source is clearly indicated; (Sec. 11, P.D. No. 49)

It is of my opinion that these provisions do not say anything regarding the importation of such copyrighted works by religious, charitable and educational institutions. Why? Because the very provision granting such right was included in Section 190.1, which was entirely deleted by the  new law.

Section 190. Importation for Personal Purposes. – 190.1. Notwithstanding the provision of Subsection 177.6, but subject to the limitation under the Subsection 185.2, the importation of a copy of a work by an individual for his personal purposes shall be permitted without the authorization of the author of, or other owner of copyright in, the work under the following circumstances:

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(iii) The importation, consisting of not more than three (3) such copies or likenesses in any one invoice, is not for sale but for the use only of any religious, charitable, or educational society or institution duly incorporated or registered, or is for the encouragement of the fine arts, or for any state school, college, university, or free public library in the Philippines.

Thus, in construing the amended law under the maxim of expression unius est exclusion alterius, translated as “whatever is omitted is understood to be excluded”, we can say that the importation of copyrighted materials by religious, charitable and educational societies is not protected by the law. If the intention of the authors is to include such right, it should have not omitted it. Importing such product may now raise legal questions even for religious, charitable and educational societies, contrary to what Representative Rodriguez have mentioned in the interview, as they are not expressly provided in the law.

Even if such right is still granted to religious, charitable and educational institutions, the deletion of such provisions still prejudice private individuals as these individuals cannot be considered as religious, charitable or educational society.  Ordinary citizens cannot, now, import copyrighted products such as books, music, films and movies without being subjected to legal issues.

It is in this matter where we can see how the society prioritizes the protection of such works over its accessibility to the public as a whole.  It ceases to encourage the act of sharing of such information to the vast majority, limiting such privilege to those who can afford it. It actually increases the gap of social classes, limiting the accessibility of such works to certain groups of people.

Taken from the words of our professor in Technology and the Law, “Information can be accessed only by people who have the resources. Ganoon ba dapat? (Is that the way it should be?)”

Modern technology can be considered as a gift to humanity or a tool for destruction, depending on the purpose and means of using it. It makes our everyday lives easier. It provides for faster and easier dissemination of information and knowledge.  It creates a revolution in the production of work and reproduction of original products. It shapes our everyday lives.

That is the power of technology.

It is of my belief that such powerful tool must not be used, in anyway, to deprive nor to discriminate. Why? It is the very purpose of creating. We create our works so that others could see and appreciate it. We create our works to reach thousands of people. We create our works to share them not to a limited number of people but also for those who have limited resources to avail it

What harm can be done in sharing it to everyone? Is it not enough that we are bounded to acknowledge the creator of such work that we are now prohibited from the access of such information?

The problem may be rooted down to our culture, how we view the society as a whole and how we consider ourselves as catalysts for change. The purpose of creating our works creates a difference on the permission we impose over our products and workings.

To provide an analogy, I will use an activity that I’m so sure we can relate to, that is, posting a status on Facebook. It is common for us, and weird for me, to see people throwing their angst on their Facebook friends who are commenting negatively on a status they have posted. I have always thought that sharing it as a status and letting your friends view the same means giving permission for others to view it and comment on the matter that was posted. In my personal opinion, the author of such status has no right to enjoin people from commenting on it or sharing it as a status as long as it is credited to the original owner as the idea still came from a certain person.

Analyzing the situation, the difference between me and the irate author is the way we look at the purpose of our status. He might have posted it for self-fulfilment (why make it public, anyway?) and I look at my statuses as something that I wanted to share to the public, thus, allowing them to solicit their ideas and opinion, either positive or negative, to what I’ve posted.

How you view purpose the status or the original work makes the difference in deciding whether to allow the public to use and modify the original masterpiece, It is either for our own benefit or for the public as a whole that we impose restrictions over the information that we produce. I personally think that the change in the system could not be achieved through mere reforms, but through a cultural revolution where we break from the norms and fix the very foundation which becomes the basis of how we think and act.

Laws are meant to regulate and enjoin evil acts, not to prohibit in prejudice of the very people it is bound to serve. The accessibility of these works must be considered as a right of every human being. It must not be used as a tool for destruction. It is a principle not imbibed in our laws but in line with the principle of humanity. It is the people, not any institution who could effect that change.

“The people rose up, and they caused a sea change in Washington—not the press, which refused to cover the story—just coincidentally, their parent companies all happened to be lobbying for the bill (SOPA and PIPA); not the politicians, who were pretty much unanimously in favor of it; and not the [internet] companies, who had all but given up trying to stop it and decided it was inevitable. It was really stopped by the people, the people themselves”. –Aaron Swartz, cyber-activist, computer programmer, social justice activist and writer, 

End notes:

Republic Act No. 8293, as amended by Republic Act 10372, otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines.

Conferencia de Lawrence Lessig: Leyes que limitan la creatividad. Youtube.com. 30 August 2013. DerechoUBA. Accessed on 15 October 2013.  (Part 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIV1UE_RZ-c and (Part 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqf0ltS_crk

Creative Commons. Accessed on 15 October 2013. http://creativecommons.org/

Diaz, Jess. PNOY Signs IP Code Amendments. March 8, 2013.The Philippine Star. Accessed last October 17, 2013. http://www.philstar.com/business/2013/03/08/917004/p-noy-signs-ip-code-amendments

 

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