One of the last things I did before I quit being ED of ORG was to visit Brussels to implore MEPs not to extend copyright term in sound recordings. The hearing was dominated by members of the Green grouping. I remember one of them commenting after the speech that the various extensions to copyright law – both in term and in scope – that Brussels has been asked to consider over the years were contributing to a sort of pollution that would eventually damage the cultural landscape irrevocably. It was a powerful metaphor, and one which has stuck with me.
For the past year I’ve been helping, in a very modest way, to advise the talented team behind Just Do It, a documentary about climate change activists, their cause and the way they go about advocating for it. Emily James, the Director of the film, is a passionate and inspiring film-maker, whose past credits include (as writer/producer/director) The Luckiest Nut in the World, (as producer/director) The Battle for Broadway Market and (as Executive Producer) The Age of Stupid. Just Do It is currently in post-production: once finished it will be released Creative Commons NC ND. Which, of course, is excellent news.
Emily tells me that as she’s gone around the country explaining what she’s up to (this woman is seriously tireless), she’s often had to give her climate-conscious audience a primer in Creative Commons, because they’ve never heard of it. She says that once they hear about Creative Commons, though, they love the idea, and I have to say I’m not surprised. Like the planet, the sum of human knowledge is a common resource, a public good, and yet much like free market capitalism does for natural resources, the copyright system is getting worse and worse at protecting the public good aspects of human knowledge. Libraries find it increasingly difficult to archive our cultural heritage, creators find it increasingly difficult to use the signs and symbols around them to tell stories to the rest of us without bumping into a grumpy lawyer from a global media corporation.
Given this similarity, what’s even more interesting is the way that the establishment goes into lockdown when IP reform campaigners and climate change advocates alike try and voice their concerns. We’ve just seen the final round of the secret Anit-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement wind down in Tokyo. The result is less worrying than everybody feared – thanks to the excellent work of KEI and La Quadrature du Net at smoking out those rats. But what’s really frightening is that democratic governments ever thought it was okay to make law like this, given that last time I checked institutions like WIPO, that have worked hard to establish a voice for civil society in the small matter of the enclosure of the mind, are still alive, well, and providing excellent meeting facilities in Geneva. Similarly, part of the story of Just Do It is about the measures law enforcement have taken to silence those activists willing to devote their lives to saving the planet for all of us, often using legislation meant to combat terrorism.
So three cheers for Just Do It. Although I thought my begging days were over once I’d left ORG, it seems that I’ve got one last puff left in me, so here goes. The team are trying to raise £20,000 towards finishing the film and Lush cosmetics will match anything you donate in the next 20 days. So I’m coming over all Charles Satchi and donating £150 today. I hope you will too – visit this page to find out why they’re crowdsourcing funding, what they’ll spend the money on and what privileges you get when you become such an esteemed patron of the arts. Go on, get off your arse and change the world!