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Enclosing the Commons - for Dummies: Creativity, citizenship and media ownership

In his address at the iSummit '08, Adam Haupt argues that legal threats issued by SAB Miller and Wiley Publishing to culture jammers Laugh It Off Media and Mail & Guardian Online, respectively, provide important perspectives on democracy and commons enclosure. Both the Wiley "for Dummies" and SAB Miller "Black Labour White Guilt" cases offer insights into corporations' tendencies to employ narrow understandings of IP to protect their own interests - often at the expense of the public interest. However, we should be wary of reducing both media incidents to 'David and Goliath' struggles. The story of commons enclosure and limitations on free speech is not always as dramatic. Media ownership offers one example of the ways in which democracy is perverted and the South African media landscape is no exception in this regard.

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Enclosing the Commons - for Dummies: Creativity, citizenship and media ownership

  1. 1. Enclosing the Commons – for Dummies Creativity, Citizenship and Media Ownership iCommons iSummit, 2008 Adam Haupt (University of Cape Town)
  2. 2. <ul><li>I explore SAB Miller’s legal battle with Laugh It Off (LIO) and Wiley Publishing’s claim that Tom Eaton’s use of the phrase “for dummies” in his Mail & Guardian column, “Pitch and Mutter”, constitutes trademark infringement. </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Legal threats by SAB Miller and Wiley Publishing offer examples of attempts at the enclosure of the information commons. </li></ul><ul><li>Much like the enclosure of common fields in eighteenth century England, enclosure of the information commons protects the interests of global capital at the expense of civil society and its rights to free speech, innovation and creativity. </li></ul>
  4. 5. <ul><li>The LIO victory hinged on an interpretation of Section 34(1)(c) of the Trademark Act. The Constitutional Court ruled that this act did not apply…. </li></ul><ul><li>Section 16 of the Constitution … free speech </li></ul><ul><li>M&G called Wiley’s bluff…. </li></ul>
  5. 6. <ul><li>IP has become an instrument of corporations, not citizens. Corporations – paradoxically recognised by law as legal persons – often infringe upon civil liberties when they secure their economic interests. </li></ul>
  6. 7. <ul><li>Some of the ways in which this has happened… </li></ul><ul><li>Digital Millennium Copyright Act </li></ul><ul><li>Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act </li></ul><ul><li>General Agreement on Trades & Tariffs </li></ul><ul><li>TRIPS [Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property] </li></ul><ul><li>TRIPS+ </li></ul>
  7. 8. <ul><li>How much power do subjects have in asserting their identities as (creative) citizens when global corporations are so successful in mediating / constructing identities and consumer desires? </li></ul>
  8. 9. <ul><li>This question does not only bears relevance to skirmishes between independent news media titles, such as Mail & Guardian , and international publishers, like Wiley Publishing, or to David and Goliath battles such as the LIO case. </li></ul>
  9. 10. <ul><li>Instead, it is pertinent in the everyday operation of South African news media, which is mostly owned by large holding companies. Media monopolies in South Africa present a far more everyday example of the enclosure of the information commons. </li></ul>
  10. 11. <ul><ul><li>Click on any news website and what do you find at the bottom of a story? Most likely, Sapa (South African Press Association), Reuters or AFP (Agence France-Presse). How do these sites distinguish themselves from each other? Our top news sites in South Africa – Naspers’ (or, Independent’s, the Mail & Guardian’s – all get their news from the same source: wire agencies. (Grobler, 2006: 11) </li></ul></ul>
  11. 12. <ul><li>The key to expanding any business is reducing its operational expenditure. </li></ul><ul><li>Are news carriers cutting corners? </li></ul><ul><li>Reliance on news copy and syndicated news creates homogenous news perspectives / narrow news agendas. </li></ul>
  12. 13. <ul><li>South Africa makes for just 0.5 per cent of the global media industry’s value, whereas the US accounts for the largest value at 40.4 per cent. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  13. 14. Two most dominant media companies in SA <ul><li>Naspers Limited owns a wide range of electronic and print media. </li></ul><ul><li>Independent News & Media plc own print media in the UK, South Africa and Australasia. </li></ul>
  14. 15. <ul><li>Naspers has a share in Mail & Guardian Online. </li></ul><ul><li>Generated revenues of $2 243.2 million for the fiscal year ended March 2004, whilst Independent News and Media reported revenues of $1 693.52 million in the fiscal year ended December 2004. </li></ul><ul><li>Naspers launched, which amalgamates MWeb, News24 and Media24 Digital’s niche interest sites. </li></ul>
  15. 16. <ul><li>The issues of free speech, creativity and innovation that feature in both cases also apply to the problem of media ownership in South Africa. </li></ul>
  16. 17. <ul><li>What is at stake here is the news media’s role as watchdogs that are able to inform citizens of matters that will influence their ability to make decisions about the public interest. </li></ul>
  17. 18. <ul><li>There are serious questions about the news media’s ability to play the role of watchdog in an age of global media monopolies that blur news and entertainment. </li></ul>
  18. 19. <ul><li>What is needed is a critical engagement with some of the key premises that inform the operation of the media, something along the lines of key shifts that have occurred in information technology with the open source movement and, more recently, the advocates of open standards in areas such as education. </li></ul>
  19. 20. <ul><li>Traditional news media are not likely to become obsolete in the global South very soon. </li></ul><ul><li>Optimism of Web 2.0 is limited in global South, where digital divide is substantial. </li></ul><ul><li>How do we ensure that news media serve the democracy, and not shareholders? </li></ul>