In a major opinion essay published in the latest issue of UN Chronicle, TVE Asia Pacific Director Nalaka Gunawardene has reiterated his call for all development related media content to adopt more liberal copyright policies.
He has also renewed his call, originally made in 2006, for the broadcast media channels to recognise development and poverty as a ‘Copyrights Free Zone’, to enable secondary use of their products in public information and education.
The essay, titled ‘Open Access and Closed Minds: Balancing Intellectual Property and Public Interest in the Digital Age’, is included in UN Chronicle Volume XLIX Number 3, 2012. It was released in time for the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, which opened in New York on 18 September 2012.
The issue is devoted to reflecting on the progress made and lessons learned in trying to redefine diversity and improve dialogue among civilizations and cultures since the 2001 United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.
Nalaka Gunawardene, a science writer and development communications professional with Asia-wide experience for 25 years, makes a case for open content policies and practices in the development and scientific communities as part of their contribution to Information Society.
He notes: “Modern copyright laws originated in Western society in the 18th century. While communications technologies and economies have evolved a great deal since, many copyright laws are anchored in ideas dating before the discovery of electricity.”
In September 2006, speaking at the 59th Annual UN NGO Conference in New York, Gunawardene urged all broadcasters -- public and commercial -- to let go their development related TV content after initial airing, and to allow educational and civil society groups access to their archives.
He pointed out how, every year, vast amounts of public or philanthropic funds were spent on making hundreds of documentaries and TV programmes on various environment, development and social issues. These are typically aired a few times; some get also screened at film festivals, or released on DVD. Most are locked up in broadcast archives and never seen again.
He noted: “Many factual films have a long shelf-life and can be very useful in education, advocacy and training especially in the developing world where such resources are scarce. But the broadcast industry has no culture of sharing, which prevents their secondary use.”
Both are using the progressive framework provided by Creative Commons (CC), an international non-profit organisation that offers free licences and tools for copyright owners to let others reuse and remix their material. Since 2001, CC has provided a legal framework for thousands of progressive individuals and institutions to share their work.
Gunawardene advocates this as a way forward for a better balance between individual gain and the wider public interest.
The new wave of collaborative content creation and content sharing requires new business models, which are still emerging. He looks at two examples – the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) and Majority World – that are trying out different approaches.
He urges all content providers to take a closer look at the global Olympic movement that has successfully balanced revenue generation and public engagement for a century.
Gunawardene ends his essay with a call for moderation: “All-or-nothing kind of stark choices are never healthy. Instead, let us look for the middle ground where commerce meets the Commons, serving individual and public interests in our material world and networked society.”
UN Chronicle is the flagship magazine of the United Nations, published by the UN Department of Public Information (UN-DPI) in New York. It carries invited contributions from global thought leaders and peer recognised practitioners in all areas of concern to the United Nations.
Among the other contributors to this issue are Ingrid Moses, President Emeritus of the International Association of University Presidents; Shulamith Koenig, Founding President, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning; and Hans d’Orville, Assistant Director General for Strategic Planning at UNESCO.
Photos courtesy: UN Chronicle, TVE Asia Pacific Image Archive