February 11, 2013KR BlogUncategorized

On Copyright, that Sacred Cud-chewer

Over at my daily blog, ArabLit, things are usually quite peaceable. Sure, we have a debate here and there, but these are generally courteous affairs, with lots of hat-tipping and “by-your-leave”-ing, and only the occasional “jesus, stop taking yourself so seriously.” Professor Ferial Ghazoul asked me once, during a talk at the American University in Cairo, how I fend off hateful commenters.

I admitted that I don’t. I have been excoriated elsewhere for my views on religion, guns, “madrassas” (you know, schools), Arabic, parenting, and many other things. But haters don’t seem to have much interest in trolling literary blogs. At least, not mine.

That’s just fine by me. I don’t like a good fight. In fact, I don’t much like fights at all.

Occasionally, I will be called a name over on ArabLit, or accused of being male (I can’t find the link, but it definitely happened), but generally the comments, much like the comments here at KRO, are pretty warm and cuddly.

So I was surprised when my post on Friday (When Is It Okay to Distribute Unauthorized Translations?) was called “provocative,” and further that it occasioned some real angry and heart-felt remarks, although not of the sort that Dr. Ghazoul seemed to think were my destiny.

By way of background: European and American entities have spent a goodly deal of time educating Arab publishers about international copyright law. While some Arabic-language publishers have agreed to these rules, more or less, many other publishers, authors, academics, and readers have pushed back against the flanks of the big bovine.

Last year, when I was asked to write about copyright issues for the Egypt Independent, I initially turned in something that tiptoed fairly gently around the issue. The newspaper’s excellent editor-in-chief asked me go to stomp a little more loudly, and particularly pointed me toward Dr. Naglaa Rizk, of the A2K (Access to Knowledge) movement.

Access to knowledge has sometimes been framed as aid to the poor and “developing” rather than as a right for all. The Internet has been changing our relationship to information (and art), and will, in all likelihood, continue to do so. But technology in itself cannot provide answers to these live and important questions. Yes, we must continue to care deeply about the fate of artists and authors. Yes, we must continue to care about the fate of (most) publishers. But what about the reader’s bill of rights?