Climate change and copyrights: What intellectual property on a dead planet?

Twenty centuries ago, Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Today, some media companies are squabbling over copyrights while the planet is warming.

This is the main thrust of my latest op ed essay, just published by the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) anchored in London, UK. It’s titled: Planet before profit for climate change films.

I have adapted for this commentary some of my ideas initially expressed on this blog – especially the post on 12 Oct 2008: Climate in Crisis and planet in peril – but we’re squabbling over copyrights!

Broadcasting on a warming planet

Broadcasting on a warming planet

In writing this essay, I’ve also drawn on the excellent discussions we had last month during the Asia Pacific workshop on Changing Climate and Moving Images in Tokyo.

I’m challenging broadcasters to put their money where their mouth is.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Broadcast mandarins routinely support global struggles against poverty, HIV, corruption and climate change by offering free airtime to carry public interest messages. But few let go of their own products on these very subjects for non-broadcast uses.

“Making climate change a ‘copyright free zone’ for media products would increase the resource materials available to thousands of educators, social activists and trainers struggling to communicate this complex topic to audiences across the world. Moving images would make their task easier.

“The climate crisis challenges everyone to adopt extraordinary measures. Broadcasters and film-makers need to balance their financial interests with planetary survival.

“What use is intellectual property on a dead planet?”

Read my full essay on SciDev.Net: Planet before profit for climate change films.

In September 2006, speaking at the United Nations headquarters (photo below), I called for poverty to be recognised as a copyright free zone. The idea was to have broadcasters and other electronic publishers release copyrights on TV, video and online content relating to poverty and development issues -– at least until (MDG target year of) 2015.

The TV broadcast and film communities have reacted to this proposal with disdain or indifference, but I keep badgering on. If poverty didn’t motivate broadcasters to change business as usual, I hope, the planetary threat posed by climate change would.

Obama Girl: Can this little video change history?

Is this the face that launches a revolution?

Is this the face that launches a revolution?

November 4 is already here in Asia – and the day will dawn a few hours later in the United States. Today is the day Americans go to the polls to choose their next President.

In less than 48 hours, we’ll know who the winner is. All the polls of US voters suggest that it would be Senator Barack Obama. Surveys in different parts of the world also indicate how so many people expect him to win. And I certainly want him to win!

But after what happened with the 2000 US Presidential Election, I hesitate to draw any conclusions.

Whatever the outcome of today’s election, one thing is for sure: a little campaign video by a relatively little known actress and model changed the face of Campaign 2008.

“I Got a Crush… on Obama”
is an internet viral video, first posted on YouTube in June 2007 featuring a young woman seductively singing of her love for Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Produced by, a website for funny political videos, it featured actress and model Amber Lee Ettinger who lip-synched the song which was actually sung by Leah Kauffman (of “My Box in a Box” fame).

This video was named biggest web video of 2007 by People magazine…the AP…Newsweek…and AOL. It certainly helped to project Obama as a cool and hip candidate.

As we wait for democracy to take its course, here’s that history-making viral video, which has been watched on YouTube more than 10 million times…and counting:

These are the principal credits:
Created by: Ben Relles
Starring: Amber Lee Ettinger
Vocals: Leah Kauffman
Music Producer: Rick Friedrich
Directed by: Larry Strong and Kevin Arbouet.

Visit Obama Girl’s blog

And finally, if any of you feel anything at all for the incumbent who is about to be relegated to the dustbin of history, here’s a wicked video from the same creators called: Lil’ Bush Girl…Meet Obama Girl
(Caution: it’s not for the prim and proper, but then readers of this blog aren’t!).

Meet the new Pied Pipers of our Global Village: the Media!

In the well known legend, the pied pier of Hamelin played his musical pipe to lure all the rats into the nearby Weser river. When the town reneged on the promised fee, he played a different tune to entice all its children away from the town.

Modern-day pied pipers use smooth talk and convincing images instead of hypnotic musical tunes to lead people astray. And they achieve much greater coverage today — thanks to the modern media.

When the media amplify pied piper tunes, how responsible are they for the resulting damage?

Then and now, we like to follow a tune...

Then and now, we like to follow a tune...

This is the question I raise – and try to answer – in an op ed essay published this week by the Asian website Eye on Ethics.

‘When media amplify pied piper tunes…’ was inspired by a current experience in my native Sri Lanka. For the past few weeks, Sri Lankans have been shocked and dismayed to learn how thousands of middle-class adults have been hoodwinked by a confidence trickster who used paid advertisements in newspapers and on television to boost his image.

Sakvithi Ranasinghe, a populist tutor of English turned businessman, fled the country in mid-September 2008 after duping thousands of unsuspecting people to deposit money in an Ponzi-style investment scheme that offered abnormally high returns.

After the scandal broke, the media have been giving it a great deal of coverage. But most of it falls into follow-the-victim, blame-the-authorities style of journalism.

The main point of my essay: “Amidst the finger-pointing, arm-waving and name-calling, few have noticed the role of the media in promoting Ponzi schemes in the first place. Wittingly or otherwise, the media have helped amplify the mesmerizing tunes of pied pipers, and quietly collected substantial advertising revenue from such racketeers.”

Sakvithi's investment victims protest in Colombo - photo courtesy Daily Mirror

Sakvithi's investment victims protest in Colombo - photo courtesy Daily Mirror

I also comment in this essay the blurring of what used to be a sacred divide in the media – between editorial content and paid advertising. Here’s an excerpt:

“Many people experience media products as a whole, and lack the media literacy to separate news, commentary and paid commercials. Besides, the once clear demarcations have blurred in recent years.

“Television’s seamless blending of news, entertainment and commercials can leave even the most media-literate people somewhat perplexed. News bulletins are sponsored variously by sellers of insurance, milk food or detergents, while current affairs shows are branded by various commercial products or services.

“In newspapers, the steady rise of ‘advertorials’—product promotions neatly dressed up as editorial content—makes it harder to discern where one ends and the other begins.”

Read and comment on my full essay at Eye on Ethics website