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.

4 Responses to “Climate change and copyrights: What intellectual property on a dead planet?”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Creativity serves no-one if its expression and distibution is confined solely to the lure of a dollar. Making a positive difference in peoples lives has always been the desired legacy for most creators.

    However, man cannot live by bread alone, so there must be some payment to the creators in order for them to sustain the development and production of useful works. Acknowledgement at least would boost the creators earning potential if only to increase their chance of survival in a shark infested media market.

    I wonder who is, and what happened to, the original creator of Ozzy Ozone, for example? What other pearls are being lost, buried in UNfortunate beurocracy. UNfinished business
    causes stress. We need a “Cimate Change” within the corridors of power, so that we all may get some relief!

  2. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    Thomas: I agree with you. Indeed, striking a balance is what we need here as in many other situations in life. Our Tokyo workshop participants came from backgrounds in broadcasting or independent film-making — we already knew how copyrights generate income for our industries.

    At the same time, our point was: many media companies and filmmakers maintain their tight control over rights even for the ‘majority world’ (global South) where ‘returns on investment’ are often not feasible.

    By the way, still no response from UNEP on who created Ozzy Ozone! It’s now many weeks since you and I asked…

  3. Edan Baxter Says:

    Hi Nalaka.. Interesting blog and heaps of good discussion.. Intellectual property doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves..

  4. Thomas Doubting Says:

    Just an update by way of courtesy

    – UNEP’s Global Ministerial Environment Forum
    Jamil Ahmad is the Secretary for the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment and its subsidiary body, namely the Committee of Permanent Representatives to UNEP, and he is the focal point of all UNEP’s external relations. Jamil is the overall coordinator of the organization of the twenty-fifth session of GC/GMEF,

    NOT EVEN HE, could answer the question regarding who is the original designer/creator/conceptualist of Ozzy Ozone who may or may not hail from Barbados or the labrynth of corridors at the UNEP. Instesad a redirect to the Ozon Secretariat was given to my colleague who made the enquiry on our behalf. Then the Ozon Secretariate requested Rajendra Shende to respond to the query, but notrhing, but silence.

    In addition I emailed Rajendra Shende, Anne Fenner, JIm Curlin directly. Again , nothing but silence?

    Whats going on? You have a close working relationship with these people, and I know you have said that you too would like an answer to these harmless simple questions?
    The more silence, the more volume of suspicions raises.
    How can they be so disrespectful to you?


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