Give our Rights back!

20 November 2007

We were told that some big media companies (e.g AFP, Getty Images) are now copyrighting records of recent movement in Burma, which include photos and video footages taken by our citizen journalists. We also heard that when the people from inside Burma requested one of the Burmese exile media groups for the purpose of inspiration in upcoming activities, the Burmese exile media group could not air the documentaries of 1988 movement as they have to pay copyright fees in order to air these documentaries.

From now on, do the people in Burma/ Burmese exile media have to pay the copyright owners, i.e. big media companies, for the photos taken by our citizen journalists or the video footages uploaded to internet by our bloggers if they want to republish them? The people in Burma, who are under the Junta's tight control of the information in Burma, had risked their lives to share information while these media companies copyrighted it for profits. Is it fair?

Such big media companies usually offer the public to submit the most current news and photo/video records. They usually have set certain terms and conditions for IP rights which are written in tiny fonts on their websites. Once submitted, it is considered that the submitter has agreed those terms and conditions.

In fact Burma is at its infancy stage in Intellectual Property (IP) Rights. The existing IP laws are not realistic enough to come into force. Amendments of laws are still on-going and will not be coming soon as the extension of time given by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to finalise the IP legal reform is only by 2015 . Since people in Burma do not have enough knowledge in IP rights, there should be a specific consideration in solving international IP issues for a country like Burma.

During the recent protests in Burma, we can obviously see that the aim of a citizen journalist for risking his own life and posting news materials on the internet is to distribute the information as widely as possible so as to receive the world's attention to save Burma. It is not for sale. Copyrighting such materials will serve as a kind of barrier and it will defeat the purpose of the free flow of information.

The original idea of having copyright is to award incentives to the owner so as to encourage further creations. Now, ironically, the big media's copyrighting the materials of a citizen journalist will make him less motivated to risk and get the news in future events. Again, in such crisis situation, Burmese citizen journalists have to be kept anonymous for security reason and hence, the big media can take advantage of the situation to put their brand on the bare materials.

On the other hand, copyrighting should not necessarily mean commercialising. Even though the media will collect the materials and copyright them, they can equally distribute the work (for free) as intended by the original author, something similar to Creative Common License non-commercial share-alike.

Hence, we see this as a need to introduce new policies and regulations under such a special condition/ crisis situation if there is none yet.

Shall we call a campaign to return the copyright to the real owners? Shall we sue these media companies? We seek your suggestions.