CopyCamp 2018 – checking we’re speaking the same language.

Biblioteka Narodowa – plac Krasińskich, Warsaw

Jane and I were very pleased to see that videos from CopyCamp 2018 in Warsaw are now available on the conference website. If you want to catch our joint session it’s at 4:22:30 during the first day stream, and the opening panel discussion in which Jane featured starts at 00:8:30.

Looking at the video and rereading Jane’s previous blog post got me thinking about the topic of language and copyright. Firstly, the conference was in a mixture of English and Polish, and this was the first multilingual event I’d been to where earpieces were available providing instantaneous translation. Although it took a bit of getting used to, I got into it eventually and soon enough felt like I was taking part in an important international summit where nothing less than the continued existence of human civilisation was at stake. I was also extremely impressed with the interpreters’ ability to keep up with the presentations and make them comprehensible in English, and it was very heartening to hear the well deserved and thunderous applause they got at the end of the final day.

The other thing that occurred to me was that the conference couldn’t help but reflect the divergent opinions over the the EU Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. It wasn’t quite an elephant in the room, but I got the sense that people were on their best behaviour given that the event was intended as a neutral space to discuss copyright issues. The EU is of course a multi-lingual institution, and part of the challenge of creating European law is that everything needs to be translated into multiple languages without losing its meaning and intent. And on top of that, it is also a highly technical area of law as we discussed with Eleonora Rosati in our first guest Copyright Waffle podcast, so there’s always a tendency to use emotive language that isn’t actually helpful in understanding complex systems.

I was very interested to hear Will Slauter comparing the current rhetoric around the proposed press publishers’ right and the language used in the debates around copying within the 19th century print news industry (first day stream at 2:09:00). Will pointed out that the same tropes appear over and over again, and that some element of copying is always tolerated within the system. However, it depends on which side of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy a person or organisation sits as to whether it is seen by the press industry as ‘piracy’ or just business. But the purpose of mentioning this is not necessarily to talk about the content of the proposed DSM. I have my views on this, but I also welcomed the opportunity to hear carefully worded and well argued presentations from others with different views. For example Burak Özgen from GESAC who wanted to distance himself from the loaded term “value gap”, instead talking about “transfer of value” in their efforts to license use of copyright works on online music platforms (second day stream at 3:38:30).

So the issue with language is not just whether it allows you to understand and be understood, it also has huge ideological power. Copyright may be a complex area of law, but it’s also one that encapsulates big ideas around access to art, culture and science which people feel passionate about. And whilst passion can be a good thing, we’ve all seen the effect of emotive language on the political stage in recent years and the descent into tribalism. I’ve recently been reading The People vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett, in which the author (who has for many years been a cheerleader for digital technology) argues that the internet is now undermining democracy. He notes that democracy is about consensus, about give and take, and therefore not about getting everything you want. However, much of the the language of online discussion falls into the trap of following a winner takes all mindset. – The Copyright Conference Game

So what’s the answer? Is it possible to support a robust conversation about copyright whilst allowing for proper consideration and deliberation and not getting stuck in entrenched polarised positions? This is something Jane and I have stressed copyright literacy should be about. We talk about avoiding the binaries in our CopyCamp presentation, and we hope the recent statement from IFLA also supports this (in addition see the fabulous Stephen Wyber from IFLA at 2:41:00 on day two). We also applaud the Fundacja Nowoczesna Polska (Modern Poland Foundation) for creating CopyCamp in the first place, and for their card game at which highlights the ideological position behind certain terms used in the copyright debate. However, there is clearly more work to do on this. Despite their attempt to use ‘neutral’ language I think the creators of the CopySpeak card game would admit that they fall on the copyright minimalist side of the debate and that this is reflected in the message of the cards. We are currently working on ideas to allow critical examination of these terms as part of a workshop and there may be an opportunity next summer to consider this further (hint hint).

So where am I going with all this? Well, in summary, I would like to join Jane in congratulating Krzysztof Siewicz for organising an excellent, stimulating multilingual conference. I would also like to say how proud I am of Jane for taking part in the panel and speaking clearly and passionately despite her initial reticence. I’m not sure I’m ready to learn Polish right now, but I will be thinking about language and its relationship with copyright, particularly after Jose Bellido at the University of Kent talked to us recently about Derrida and Foucault and their influence on critical legal thinking in our latest Copyright Waffle. Whilst this isn’t really the time to embark on a new area of research (dissertation must be done by December!) it’s possible that my degree in communication studies* might have had some value after all.


*Yes, so it’s kind of like a mixture of media studies, cultural studies and linguistics. No, it’s not a Mickey Mouse subject. Well ok, yes we do write essays on Die Hard, deconstructing it as a hegemonic tool of repression. No, I’m not sure what I’m going to do for a living. Yes, the University of Glamorgan. No, it’s not in Scotland. What is postmodernism? Erm, can I get back to you on that?

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.