An Apology to Socialist Worker
By Andy Newman
An Apology - but you still get the award!
In a year-end article on the Socialist Unity Network website an “award” was facetiously offered to Socialist Worker for the “Cheekiest use of copyright ”, with the explanation: “British Socialist Worker lifts a story from South Africa Indymedia about World Aids Day in Zimbawe, and then sticks it uncredited on their web page claiming their own copyright!”
This explanation was clumsily written, and may unwittingly have given the impression we were accusing Socialist Worker of plagiarism, or of failing to attribute authorship accurately. This was not our intention, and we would like to clarify that Socialist Worker correctly attributed the article to the author, Bomba Briggs, and that Socialist Worker acted quite properly in reproducing the article for a wider audience, particularly as this was an important solidarity act to publicise the arrest of the Zimbabwean comrades. We unreservedly apologise to Socialist Worker and Bomba Briggs for any misunderstanding that arose.
However, we do not withdraw the award for the Cheekiest use of copyright, instead we would like to take this opportunity to explain that there is substantive political issue behind this award. The explanation for the award should more accurately be described as: “ British Socialist Worker republishes a story a day after it first appeared in South Africa Indymedia about World Aids Day in Zimbawe, and then sticks it on their web page claiming their own copyright, and demanding that anyone else reproducing it must link to Socialist Worker!”
The issue is that Socialist Worker sought to impose restrictive copyright conditions on a piece of journalism that had already been previously published elsewhere. What is more Socialist Worker’s attitude to Copyright is outwith the mainstream view of the left nowadays, which is to support copyleft.
The facts about the Bomba article
Bomba Brigg’s artice was first published on South African Indymedia on 1st December, and as with all Indymedia writings it is Copyleft. Which means:
Attribution: you must give the original author credit
* Noncommercial: you may not use this work for commercial purposes
* Share Alike: if you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Copyleft is enforceable in law. (It is the author’s assertion of willingness to only accept a limited sub-set of copyright)
Note that Socialist Worker published it at 1:30 pm on 2nd December, by which time it had already been published by SA Indymedia a full day earlier, on the Socialist Unity Network webpage (we published it 2 or 3 hours before Socialist Worker) and on the Green Left Weekly e-list (and maybe elsewhere)
Socialist Worker’s Claim for Copyright
Despite the fact that Brigg’s article had already been published with legally enforceable Copyleft restriction, Socialist Worker sought to subsequently place the following Copyright notice upon it:
© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place. In point of law and journalistic ethics they are unable to claim copyright on text that was already published previously elsewhere, and their attempt to place a subsequent restriction
“You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place.”
Is both in law and ethics a breach of Indymedia’s asserted copyleft claim;
“ Share Alike: if you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.”
It is also worth noting that Socialist Worker do not rely themselves upon Copyleft (a legally enforceable sub-set of copyright) but apply copyright, which protects not just their journalistic attribution but also their commercial interests, which is also legally and ethically in breach of Indymedia’s asserted copyleft right that subsequent re-publication should be:
“ Non commercial: you may not use this work for commercial purposes.”
In particular Socialist Worker claimed © Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). But no-where did they state otherwise - that it had been previously published elsewhere, and that they could not legally or ethically assert copyright. Perhaps all of this was unintentional, and Socialist Worker were unaware that the piece was already published. If so they should take more care in future, but they wouldn’t have got into this mess in the first place if they didn’t have a wrong headed approach to copyright.
Copyleft is important to ensure that there is no commercial constraint upon the spread of good ideas. For example, if the Weekly Worker copied our format for annual awards at the end of 2006, we would not wish to sue them. Whereas Pop-Idol creator Simon Fuller sued the highwaisted Simon Cowell for £100 million when the X factor allegedly stole his TV format.
Obviously socialists would regret any constraint upon the free flow of ideas that would have impeded the cultural contribution to the nation made by Chico and Journey South. It is in this spirit that we were unabashed about using a photo of Chris Bambery that we lifted from the Weekly Worker, although we really should have credited Jim Gilbert, the photographer.
The Creative Commons
Indymedia is an example of the creative commons movement, that itself has grown symbiotically with the open source movement. It exists in daily defiance of the societal presumption that only the market provides.
If we are to effectively challenge the rule of capital there needs to be a widespread ideological rejection of the market, replacing it with a presumption of personal human cooperation. Naturally one source of such a rejection of capitalism can be from the collective experience of organised workers.
However there are other sources of such rejection, including the growth of sub-cultures of resistance, over social justice or ecological issues; and examples of these are Indymedia and also the Social Forum movements.
Critically the culture of resistance to Capital starts here and now, every small act of collective and creative rebellion needs to be nurtured and encouraged, and we need to rediscover the idea that dissent and debate is a strength of our movements, not a sign of people being “difficult” or “sectarian” or “unhelpful”.
By claiming copyright on everything they publish, and demanding that anyone who reproduces articles from their publications must provide an active link back to their web-site, Socialist Worker are seeking to control and channel the debate using the framework and tools of bourgeois law. This is a mistake.
Socialist Worker is a great paper, and of course the industry, initiative and talent of its journalists and editors need to be recognised and if people reproduce their articles the authorship should be acknowledged.
But copyright is not the appropriate mechanism for socialists to achieve that acknowledgement. Unfortunately, despite the excellent and constructive work done by the SWP, in so many campaigns and struggles, at both national and local levels, too often the SWP are not trusted by other activists. Trust is a two way street, if the SWP are going to realise their real potential they need to start trusting and meaningfully debating with the rest of the left, and an excellent start would be to drop all this copyright nonsense.
> > home page > >