Costa Rican Students Take to the Streets for the Right to Copy

From the TechDirt blog, and written by Glyn Moody.

One of the most important pieces of research to emerge last year was “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies“. A central theme was that much unauthorized copying around the world is driven by attempts to impose Western-level prices everywhere, resulting in media goods that are simply beyond the reach of most people in countries whose economies are still developing.

Here’s an interesting story from Costa Rica, where the same effects are playing out in education:

Thousands of students participated in a march in San José on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, protesting for their right to photocopy textbooks for educational purposes. The unrest was caused by President Chinchilla vetoing Bill 17342 (known as the ‘Photocopying Law’) which seeks to amend Law No 8039 on Procedures for Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, on the grounds that it removes protection of the work and intellectual property in the artistic, literary and technological areas.

As the article on notes, that veto was prompted at least in part by lobbying from publishers who charge unrealistically high prices for their textbooks, which then drives students to use photocopies instead.

It’s interesting that large numbers of Costa Rican students felt strongly enough about this issue to take to the streets — rather as thousands of their contemporaries did in Europe over ACTA earlier this year. That’s evidence that this isn’t simply a case of people wanting to get “something for nothing”, as copyright apologists might try to frame it. Rather, this is about a group who depend on unauthorized copies in order to gain access to knowledge that is vital for their studies, but which is otherwise unaffordable thanks to monopoly pricing.

Follow Glyn @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+


To put it into perspective, I wrote a little review column in Access magazine last year about global information rights, including the right to copy in the global South. The first agency I reviewed was CopySouth. Here is the text.

Copy/South Research Group

In North America debates about copyright are important, but in the global South[1] they are vital. Copyright can cripple an educational institution. Not being able to copy means that students might not have access to books at all. Expensive academic journals, priced to fatten publisher’s coffers, are unaffordable for libraries that don’t even have electricity. Copy/South is a group dedicated to making the injustice of Western models of copyright widely known.

Copy/South is fueled by an international group of academics and activists exposing the inequities of copyright law for readers and consumers in the global South (representing 75% of the world’s population). These nations generally inherited copyright laws from their European colonizers which were imposed without consent. The site is critical of the Berne convention (the leading international copyright law of 1886), the 1994 TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) among others, for excessive privileging of rights-holders over consumers of intellectual property.  In addition to excellent primers on international copyright, the site includes a glossary of 50 terms, phrases and organizations called the CopySouth Dossier. Copy/South critiques copyright in relation to issues of poverty, history, international development, North/South relations and social justice. The site contains articles on topics such as the importance of the public domain to developing nations, access to information, the privatization of information, etc… Think about the impact of western copyright laws on the rest of the world.

[1] Some use the term “developing countries” to refer to the countries of the global South, meaning the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s