Southern African Music Collection Society Fighting Attempt To Put Public Domain Works Under Copyright

from the yes,-but... dept

I was recently chatting with Will Page, the chief economist for PRS, whom we've interviewed before (and will be interviewing again soon) about his recent trip to South Africa, and he sent over a document put forth by SAMRO, the South African music rights organization, speaking out against a new copyright bill (pdf) in South Africa that would take certain aspects of "traditional knowledge" and put it under copyright. Yes, it's an attempt to remove works from the public domain, and protect them with copyright. This concept isn't new. We've seen plenty of other countries put copyright or copyright-like protections over traditional knowledge in an attempt to either block others from using it, or to try to exploit it commercially. For example, we recently discussed an attempt by Kenya to do something similar, just a few countries over.

My first reaction was to be surprised. After all, when was the last time you saw a music collection group support the public domain or the idea of widespread shared culture? Hell, in the US, we have ASCAP telling us that things like Creative Commons are dangerous and must be fought. However, the more you look at it, the more I understand where they're coming from. There are three potential reasons. First, is that modern musicians -- of course -- pull tremendous inspiration from the public domain, and locking that up would directly harm the musicians that SAMRO represents. Second, chances are the new copyright on "traditional knowledge" wouldn't also create a collections opportunity. Third, it's made clear in the article that the concerns aren't so much with the idea of locking up traditional knowledge, just that it would get lumped in with existing copyright law. The specific fear is that this will create problems for existing copyright coverage. In fact, SAMRO does seem okay with locking up traditional knowledge if done in some other manner, separate from copyright. So, it's not quite as "enlightened" as it might first appear. Still, it is nice to see an industry organization at least recognize that a public domain is important and that copyrights are monopoly rights (something many like to deny, for no clear reason).

Filed Under: public domain, south africa, traditional knowledge
Companies: samro

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  1. icon
    SeanG (profile), 27 Aug 2010 @ 7:24am

    Re: Who gets a piece?

    Answered my own questions, and it makes this whole idea more ridiculous. From another pdf on the SAMRO site:

    "Strangely enough, however, this Bill will have the effect of making it illegal for Mutwa, Mhlophe or any of their colleagues to share traditional stories in published books without facing reams of red tape. Firstly, the author would now need to secure the permission of the indigenous community that claims ownership of that story. Further, the copyright in the published edition of the story will no longer belong to the author, but to a government trust fund. So let us say an author decides to write a book telling a traditional Zulu children’s tale. Which Zulu community is entitled to lay claim to the story? The entire KwaZulu-Natal region? How about the Zulu people in the Eastern Cape?
    The simple answer is: no one knows because the Bill does not say how one identifies an indigenous community. Worse still, it doesn’t even provide a way of proving that a community’s claim is, in fact, genuine."

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