Patrice Riemens on Sat, 16 Jul 2011 09:22:04 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] Frederick Noronha: Copyright, copyleft and everything in between

Sorry voor het Engels, maar tiz een aanrader. Op het eerste gezicht 
defileren de gebruikelijke argumenten tegen het huidige copieerrecht 
regime, en voor alternatieve aanpakken, maar haar betoog in het 
interview bestrijkt nog veel meer terrein en is tegelijk knap gesereerd.


bwo Bytes4all/ Commons-law lists

Copyright, copyleft and everything in between

By Frederick Noronha

Filmmaker Paromita Vohra talks about her new film *Partners in Crime*, 
which explores issues around copyright, copyleft, culture and markets, 
and suggests that we might need a hybrid notion of copyright in which 
many forms coexist, just as we may need many markets based on many 
different ideas of exchange

*From urban Indian streets where young men furtively sell porn to folk 
musicians who find their ideas stolen, from corporate boardrooms to 
students who seek new ways of sharing musicâ Paromita Vohra covers these 
and more in her latest film *Partners in Crime*.*

*She describes it as âa rollicking trip through the grey worlds of 
copyright, art, and the market in a story about love, money and crimeâ.*

*Mumbai-based Vohra has earned praise for her interesting documentaries 
and her innovative ways of distribution.*

*Her earlier works include an audio documentary *(On Being Cool)*, and 
touches on a range of themes, including sexual harassment *(Do You Know 
How We Feel? Aaaaaaargh!)*, life in the city as a young woman *(A Short 
Film About Time)*, a womenâs cooperative *(Annapurna/Goddess of Food)*, 
gender equality*(A Womanâs Place)*, the World Social Forum *(Work in 
Progress: At the WSF 2004)*, feminism in contemporary urban India 
*(Unlimited Girls)*, divisions of language, class, memory and food in 
Mumbai *(Cosmopolis: Two Tales of a City)*, the minority Christian girl 
in Mumbai *(Whereâs Sandra)*, toilets and the lack of facilities in the 
city *(Q2P)*, and the complex dynamics reflected in breaking news 
*(Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad: Ek Manohar Kahani)*.*

*Excerpts from an interview.*

*What prompted you to make this film?*

Magic Lantern Foundation asked me to make the film a while ago. But I 
declined because I thought it was kind of a boring subject -- and also a 
lot of the stuff around copyleft discussion, vis-Ã-vis art, was not very 

I mean obviously the free software and open source movement and the like 
are inspiring, but there didnât seem to be anything new I could say 
about that and I didnât want to rehash some politically correct line.

Around that time, however, I went to Punjab to do research on another 
film and discovered this very interesting music world there. Also, I had 
begun doing some work in a more mainstream space -- letâs say the edges 
of Bollywood and such like. And I began coming up against the unfair 
ideas of copyright and, more than that, the feudal sense of power that 
underlies how copyright is used in various ways.

And so, perhaps having a more ground-level political engagement with the 
idea instead of a sort of theoretical one, I felt this was something I 
did want to talk about -- in fact itâs at the heart of a lot of things 
in our times. So I asked Magic Lantern Foundation whether they still 
wanted to make the film. Luckily, they did. And so here I am with 
*Partners in Crime*.

*I know it touches on a lot of cities and subjects -- the mainstream 
debate on âcopyrightâ and âpiracyâ, how young people see it, traditional 
artists and how they are affectedâ How would you describe what the film 
is about?*

I think a discussion about copyright is eventually a discussion about 
culture and the market. For me, this is a film about art, its importance 
and value in our society, and via that, some questions about how we 
decide the value of anything.

At this point we live in a time where the value of everything is 
measured by money. In general, increasingly, there are no other means by 
which we commonly value something or feel it is worthwhile. This 
eventually strips everything of value and makes it very difficult to 
create beauty and meaning, especially in popular art.

Copyright is a prism through which to see these ideas.

*Do you think this is an important debate for countries like India? 

I think itâs an important debate for all countries, but yes itâs very 
interesting and important for India.

At this point, millions of people are denied access to knowledge and 
cultural things because theyâre priced too high (for instance, cinema 
tickets). Piracy becomes a way for people to access all this. We have a 
very large population that cannot afford cultural goods any other way.

If you say therefore that piracy is a criminal activity, without making 
any nuanced difference between illegality and criminality, and in fact 
you have corporations, especially multinationals, lobbying the 
government to put it under the same laws as terrorism, you are 
effectively saying that the entire country needs to be in jail!

Thereâs a contradiction here -- you are compelling people into so-called 
criminal activity because of your market model, then wanting to punish 
them instead of looking at new market models.

But this does raise a very important problem: how are artists supposed 
to live? How are resources going to be generated to make more art?

I strongly believe that there is a growing culture of independent art 
not having any value. Thatâs because between the corporate model where 
all cultural artefacts are just fast-moving consumer goods, and piracy, 
no one wants to pay for anything and, in fact, considers it not worth 
much. I donât believe this is a sustainable way to live, for artists and 
also consumers of art. It is not good for the soul!

It seems to me that there is too little discussion around copyright from 
the artistâs point of view. And in a country like India, where 
independent art as also older art forms like folk music really struggle, 
I think it is important to start talking about it.

The copyleft debate emerged from the open source/free software 
discussion. Obviously it has been an important moment in the so-called 
âdialecticsâ around copyright.

But it cannot be applied blindly to art. Using it as a springboard, 
there has to be a parallel debate emerging from the practice of artists 
to create new paradigms that will protect the artist without impeding 
the free flow of art.

*What has the response to the film been so far?*

Weâve only had a couple of screenings so itâs hard to say what the 
response has been.

Iâm very keen that films be enjoyable, that people love the film and 
donât fall into this sort of earnest, pious mode when they watch a 
documentary because that really interferes with a genuine engagement 
with the ideas and experience of the film. So yes, people seem to have 
really enjoyed the film. That said, it is a complex film so we will know 
only with time and more shows how people respond.

Eventually, you sort of nurture the film up to a point and organise 
screenings, etc. After that it really depends on whether the film is 
going to resonate with people; if they feel it is at all relevant to 
their feelings and half-articulated thoughts; and takes on a life and 
journey of its own.

*Most of us are brainwashed into accepting âcopyrightâ as the norm. How 
tough is it for you to convince people otherwise?*

Are we? I donât know about that. I think most people are brainwashed 
into not really thinking, or knowing about things, or asking questions 
in general!

I think people donât realise one thing: that copyright is an evolving 
idea; it has arisen because of a certain technology and now technology 
itself is throwing it into tremendous flux. So we really have to come up 
with new approaches to the idea of copyright and I imagine, as do most 
people, that we will eventually have a hybrid notion of copyright in 
which many forms co-exist.

The greatest fuzziness is about whatâs actually going on with copyright 
on the ground. Copyright is meant to protect the artist -- to 
acknowledge authorship, to protect his/her right to earn a livelihood 
from talent and labour, and to be able to share art as the artist likes.

However, at this point, most copyright lies not with the artist but with 
corporate bodies. Copyright, or IPR as it is called, becomes a way for 
corporations to own everything and share nothing. There are artists who 
cannot access their own art, sing their own songs, screen their own 
films. And the truth is, even if the law changes, beyond a point IPR is 
a symbol of the power relations of these industries in which artists 
have no bargaining power and so are routinely underpaid and stripped of 
all rights.

Capitalism and feudalism is a toxic mix that decimates any justice and 
fairness -- and eventually any genuine creativity one can exercise in 
oneâs work. They replace creativity with anxiety and abjectness.

I think all of these things need to be and are laid out in the film 
along with presenting the fluidity and associativeness of the creative 
process and the need for a nuanced understanding of these concepts while 
framing copyright practice. I think people do go on that journey with 
the film and come to various understandings or at least to a place where 
they have many questions. The idea of the film is not to insist on one 
âcorrectâ or definitive conclusion but rather to make a conceptual 
exploration that prevents anything being unquestioned.

I think the one thing people are really brainwashed into is the idea 
that there is only one kind of market. The puritanism of those who say 
âthe market is badâ is a kind of silliness because there are many, many 
markets and they are based on many different ideas of exchange -- some 
of these you see in the movie. On the other hand, there is the 
religiosity of those who believe in the current mainstream market 
economy which makes them refuse to accept when the model fails.

In the end we have to engage with all this. To say that technology is 
the democracy is a kind of fascism. Technology is obviously a valuable 
tool that could allow for democratic access, and the shape of much 
technology now is democratic in tendency. But democracy depends on 
people and political choices/processes, not machines.

*What were the two or three most surprising aspects you came across 
while researching or shooting the film?*

There were so many things! But I think definitely the *Munni Badnaam 
Hui* story.

As you know, *Munni Badnaam Hui *was the big hit song of 2010. Along the 
way I read about how it was âcopiedâ from a song sung by a duo called 
Rani Bala and Rampat Harami. I heard the song on the Internet and I 
really liked it and then I began this huge search for them -- it was 
quite a little detective adventure and we succeeded with the kindness of 
friends like the filmmaker Saba Dewan who has made *The Other Song*, who 
asked some of the performers who were in her film to help.

Two things emerged -- one, that there are dozens of versions of the 
Munni song, emerging from the original folk song *Launda Badnaam Hua*, 
including a Pakistani film version. The existence of one version does 
not seem to harm the other -- because there are several parallel 
markets, and different versions work for those various markets. There is 
a certain creative richness which emerges from this logic of the market.

But the increasingly monopolistic capitalist market we see right now is 
not only monopolistic, itâs monotheistic, mono-cultural and eventually 
monotonous. It swamps everything with its version and declares all 
others illegal, so much so that art forms end up dying as the markets 
that sustain them falter. Instead, one needs to nurture different scales 
of market for different types of work.

What I also understood is that this market takes from every other market 
-- but then influences law and cultural perception in its favour, 
presenting itself as profitable and non-value-loaded, and then desires 
to shut down every other market saying that what they do is illegal. 
Itâs similar to the way people take from the environment without 
replenishing the environment. It impoverishes the world.

These were not precisely discoveries but renewed understandings that 
came from working on the film.

The third discovery that was interesting was this big push going on to 
link piracy to terrorism, influenced by the Rand report, and the degree 
of lobbying thatâs going on with the government by multinational media 
conglomerates in this regard. On the other hand though, they are making 
deals and alliances with the very Indian film companies that have 
pirated and violated their IPR through wholesale plagiarism. So the big 
guys with money are your friends and their crimes are permitted, but the 
small guys are the ones youâll go after. Itâs a weird ideology.

Last of all I discovered a term -- vertical integration. To know what it 
means you must see the film! Of course you can also Google it, but itâs 
more fun to see it in the film!

*Given that your views on copyright are a bit sceptical, are you using 
alternative models to promote your own films?*

I agree with Lawrence Liang in the film: Itâs not about property, itâs 
about propriety. I would not like someone to take a part of my film or 
writing without acknowledging me. If they have some money, then it would 
be nice if they gave me a little. If they donât, then they could ask me 
and I donât think Iâd say no. Although, what if I disagree with them? 
Can I prevent them? No I canât really. But could there be a conversation 
about it? These are not questions with clear answers, but they do 
require each of us to respect the other and to live according to that 
respect and propriety.

Being an independent filmmaker, that too in the most marginal and 
maligned of forms -- documentary -- it is alternative models alone that 
have worked. Mainstream models probably would not work for this, at 
least not right now.

So far, in most of my films I share ownership with the producers and we 
both work separately to promote and sell the film.

Also, all distribution arrangements that I make are non-exclusive. This 
helps support more initiatives and expand the space, I think. The sale 
price of films that I sell is discretionary; sort of each according to 
their ability. But I do expect that people will pay something at least 
for the film as this is what makes it possible to keep doing what we are 
doing and make an alternative space. I find it very violent when people 
insist that I give my films to others for free. When food and housing 
are free, so will my films be! There is a way that should be mutually 
non-exploitative. For instance, I always buy other filmmakersâ films as 
far as possible and donât ask for free copies.

There are also all sorts of methods of barter and exchange -- filmmakers 
buy each otherâs film, but we also exchange films. There are people who 
work for very little in our films. There are friends for whom you try to 
do some work in return for theirs. And, obviously, the Internet allows 
for a lot of possibilities and creative ways of promoting your film and 
reaching the scattered but strong audience that loves this kind of work.

I think there is a lot of collective energy that helps us do what we do 
-- collectives that screen each othersâ films, like Vikalp or the Delhi 
Film Archive. It is, as one of the metal musicians, Sahil Makhija aka 
âThe Demon-Stealerâ, says in the film -- if the scene does not exist, 
you do not exist. So you have to nurture and protect the ecosystem you 
are part of.

*Would you suggest the some-rights-reserved or no-rights-reserved 
approach to other documentary filmmakers to promote their work? Why, or 
why not?*

I donât know. For me personally I am very uncomfortable with anyone 
having exclusive ownership of my work. Some-rights-reserved is a good 
model I think. Iâve found greatest freedom in these joint models because 
they help increase audiences and create documentary cinema for Indian 
audiences. I would recommend them. On the other hand, all these models 
belong to spaces which have little money even in the world of 
documentary. I work with rather small budgets and have to do a lot of 
different things to survive. So who am I to tell any filmmaker that 
he/she should not work with a big or bigger budget that requires 
all-rights-reserved by the producers? I suppose itâs both a personal and 
political choice. And there are people who work with both models.

But one should try to take the long view and build a space and do whatâs 
needed to build that space.

*Who, in your view, are the people doing the most impressive work in 
India, in questioning copyright?*

Itâs a vast area and by no means do I know all the work thatâs 
happening. Obviously, in the software and legal areas there are strong 
groups with a long history. But thatâs not the focus of *Partners in 
Crime*, and there are too many to name here.

Within the arts, I think, independent bands are doing impressive work in 
creating alternative market models and keeping their art independent.

I think the people in the Right to Read Campaign, who are working to 
change copyright law to make the conversion of books for 
reading-disabled people possible, are doing very important fundamental 
kind of work.

*Lastly, how would you see yourself?*

I'm a filmmaker and writer. A teacher and curator. I work on themes of 
politics, popular culture, sexuality, desire and gender. I've grown up 
in many places and lived in Bombay half my life. I like living in 
Andheri East. I like acting, cooking and traveling. I'm a neatnik and 
workaholic. All other serious information is on the website,

*(Frederick Noronha is a Goa-based writer who focuses on technology and 


*Infochange News & Features, July 2011
FN +91-832-2409490 or +91-9822122436 (after 2pm)*
*#784 Nr Lourdes Convent, Saligao 403511 Goa India *


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