Thursday, June 2, 2011

Copyright. Woof and warp

Aqseer. Meelaard mode.
Aqseer put a brake on my blogging last night. I learnt two important lessons that kept me researching up late. One, that there most certainly is a future litigator emerging in the fold and two that I have been a bit of an ignoramus incarnate. The point, a most valid one and something that did not strike me until now, was my use of google images to embellish the posts. With the night’s reading behind me, I am the wiser on copyright infringement, on the courtesy of quoting sources, on blogging etiquette, the ‘fair use’ claim as also screening images variously  ‘labelled for reuse’, ‘labelled for commercial reuse with modifications’ and more. Also, that there are sites offering free image-ware to the web-based cocktail shaker.

I shuddered as I recalled all the projects we do in school, involving massive fishing on the worldwide web. Guess that has cover under ‘fair use’. As for random images adorning Facebook pages, those colourful PowerPoint slides and one greeting card after another, not to mention banners and buntings…….the guiding principle is pretty much clear now. It is all there on Google, alongside the images! The popular perception, just the same, is that content fetching up on hitting the search button is all in the public domain. When the thumbnail is called forth, all that the executor is focused on is the “save image as” link. I looked more closely some hours ago, trying to trace it back to the origin. I also wondered at Google in this newly comprehended avatar of a spider scourer and exhibitor with no apparent accountability to the source or the end user, and no visible warning on the homepage of Google either that might say, “Use the contents at your own risk”. Google’s stated mission incidentally: organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. A case of reading the fine is just a search engine and hence absolved.

Without entering the principle of intellectual property law and its emerging nuances, some random, lay thoughts come knocking at me. Matt Haig in his “The Seven Stories that rule the world”, agrees with the principle that there are only seven original plots in the world, all else being derivatives. He says, “Every story has been told……the originality comes from style and voice and the imagination that brings language and characters and settings to life. Shakespeare, for instance, never bothered himself with inventing plots. The story of Hamlet had already been told, in more prosaic form several times before”.

I know I know, it is the commercial aspect of human endeavor that gives the current copyright theory its bark and bite. The debate is a tunnel with varying light at the end. Who owns traditional knowledge for instance? Ought the Indian government to go into the fifth gear, digitally recording our “nazar ka totkas”; “good luck charms” and “jaadu ki puppi jhuppis”. I recently read an article forwarded by a friend entitled “It’s a Turban, It’s a Dress (It’s a Scarf)" by Ruth La Ferla. Briefly, the piece captured the New Yorker’s growing degree of comfort with a meter of magic. Well, stretch the metre to five and you have the sari under the international market stroboscope. 

In the movie ‘Dum maro dum’, ACP Vishnu Kamath holds his gun to one of Barbosa’s henchman, “Where is Barbosa? I can find the rest I need to know on Google!”

Is Google the newest addition to our occupant rich pantheon of gods ? 

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