A Cairo Revolution

Marching in Imbaba, Cairo

Marching in Imbaba, Cairo,
originally uploaded by RamyRaoof.

One overlooked media revelations from the Arab Revolutions of 2011 is the amount of material released with reusable copyright.

Ramy Raoof in Cairo is releasing his work with a CC Attribution license, meaning popular media, as well as outlets like Wikipedia, have access to images of these historic events.

Al Jazeera, whose coverage of the Egyptian rising has been praised as “what Baghdad 1991 was for CNN“, has released much of its coverage under a cc license. The collective around the “We are Khaled Said“, one of the prime social media instigators of the Egyptian diaspora has done the same.

This may seem a small thing. But remember that in most nations, corporate forces have been for the last three decades repeatedly extending, through force of law, ownership of writing and images far beyond the lives of their creators. The enforcement of such regimes has been strengthened, pushing past conventional understandings of free usage which existed beside copyright law. This has been a noticeable change even in my lifetime. The Xerox machine was first available to mass users in the 70s, articles and books were commonly copied and passed between readers. Such actions, even for out of print works by long dead creators, have been both criminalized and made taboo.

Most worryingly, these legal controls married to internal self censorship, are especially prevalent in academia. While academic books and journals, as well as newspapers, have been successfully digitized and shared across the internet, their diffusion has increasingly been restricted to institutions willing to pay exorbitant sums. JSTOR, the exclusive home of most humanities journals, charges as a subscriber as much as $2,450 per journal title (and there are hundreds) per year. Remember, these are are reprints of old journal articles, which had covered their costs at the time of production either by paper sales or institutional support.

We confront a world in which documents of our own history, especially the powerful medium of video, are owned by entities who punish their dissemination. Like much of the products of our society, most images made since the 1920s have been converted into commodities. Abstracted from their real value, they are mechanisms for making money, and their withholding is crucial to this status.

This, like the Arab oligarchies, is in dire need of a revolution.

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