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In Defense of Free Culture in Brazil

La Quadrature reproduces an open letter by the Brazilian civil society (dates December 28th, 2010). Many Brazilians worry that the ongoing changes at the Ministry of Culture will jeopardize the progressive policies put in place by Gilberto Gil, when he was head of the Ministry (2003-2008) and its successor Juca Ferreira (2008-2011).


Open Letter by the Brazilian civil society to President-elect Roussef and Minister of Culture Ana Buarque de Hollanda

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations from civil society, in this letter express expectations and tasks for the formulation of public policies for culture, giving a warm welcome to Minister Ana de Hollanda, the first woman to hold the position.

We write in order to cooperate with your administration that is about to begin, as we have done over the past eight years with the Ministry of Culture, assured that President Dilma Rousseff wishes that the policies and guidance that have earned the Ministry relevance, prominence and broad support from civil society, be continued and expanded.

In this regard, President Dilma, as well as former President Lula, participated actively during recent years in the International Free Software Forum in Porto Alegre, where they clearly expressed their policy on the Internet, digital culture and copyright.

In this context, in recent years civil society had the opportunity to contribute important work together with the government, that is part of a contemporary vision for the formulation of public policies for culture. This vision considers that in recent years, because of advances in information technologies and digital inclusion programmes, a contingent of millions of new creators is now part of the fabric of Brazilian culture. These creators are accessing the network through more than 100,000 LAN houses throughout the country, through Culture Points or other digital inclusion programmes, each playing a decisive role in the formation of culture of the country.

The Points of Culture, the Digital Culture Forum, the Forum of Free Media, the development of free software, the initiative to revise the copyright law, the rejection of irrational proposals for the criminalization of the network, the construction of a Bill of Rights for the Internet (the Marco Civil) and the rejection of ACTA are well-known examples of this inclusive policy, and they are based on the guarantee of the right of access to the network and to knowledge, enabling a fertile and innovative environment for cultural production.

The strengths of this policy have been recognized both in Brazil and abroad, where the country has exercised leadership in the attempts to align countries around the implementation of the Development Agenda of WIPO in order to balance the international system of intellectual property in accordance with the different stages of development of countries and with new forms of cultural production that the technologies make possible. The country has also been frequently cited in the international arena as a positive reference for the use of technologies for cooperative and democratic formulation of public policies in these areas. [1]

The country successfully has made substantial strides in realizing that the information and communication technologies developed in recent years have brought new paradigms for the production and dissemination of knowledge, which public policies in the cultural environment necessarily have to take into consideration.

We live in a time where there are many attempts to restrict creativity, openness and net neutrality. In Brazil, this is manifested in the “Law Azeredo” (PL 84/99), so called because of its main supporter, former Senator Eduardo Azeredo. This proposal met with significant resistance from civil society. One petition alone received over 160,000 signatures opposing it, which meant that this proposal was duly suspended and a larger debate was started.

We understand that the copyright law currently in force in Brazil is inadequate for representing the plurality of interests and practices that revolve around the intellectual economies. In this regard, the Brazilian law adopts exacerbated standards of protection and is significantly more restrictive than required by international treaties or than the laws of most developed countries (like the USA and Europe). Thus, today it represents significant barriers to education, innovation, development and access, fair or remunerated, to intellectual property.

There is also the need for regulation of the music collecting society ECAD – an organization that collects more than R$ 400 million per year on behalf of all musicians in the country and whose activities are not subject to any public scrutiny. Remember, that ECAD was the target of several Congressional Investigations and is currently under investigation by the Secretariat of Economic Law of the Justice Ministry, on suspicion of conduct detrimental to competition. We believe that ensuring greater transparency and scrutiny for its operation will only bring benefits for the entire value chain of music in the country, strengthening the ECAD as an institution and making it difficult to be captured by private groups.

In this regard, the Ministry of Culture carried out an extensive process of public debates to reform the Copyright Law over the past years, with seminars and discussions across the country. This process was concluded in 2010 with a public consultation on the Copyright Bill, officially held on the Internet by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (Casa Civil).

The results both of the discussions and the public consultation are very valuable. The Brazilian society took the unprecedented opportunity to participate and opine on this issue, and many of the contributions were substantial and of great weight. We now fear that this whole process might be ignored. Or, that the broad and open participation by society might be replaced by “commissions of notables” or “lawyers” giving their biased views on the subject. Brazilian society and all who had the opportunity to manifest themselves over the past years can not and should not be substituted, overlooked or ignored. The reform of the copyright law should proceed based on the opinions that were already widely expressed. This is the republican duty of the Ministry of Culture, regardless of personal opinions of those who run it.

Recent years have seen significant progress in the adaptation of the Ministry of Culture to the importance of digital culture. This is a one-way street. Increasingly, the digital environment will be critical and influential, both in creative and in economical terms, in shaping culture. Thus, it is essential that the Ministry of Culture is able and active in taking the lead on issues such as free software, open licensing models, cooperative production of knowledge, new economies derived from the digitization of music, books and audiovisual works and so on. Much progress has been made in recent years. And much remains to be done. A change of direction by the Ministry of Culture means losing all the work achieved, as well as losing a historic opportunity for Brazil to lead, as it has been doing, this discussion on the global level, showing solutions and rational and innovative alternatives, without being afraid of taking new paths and without sticking to the models preached by the culture industry of the United States or Europe.

For all that, we trust that the Minister of Culture will have the sensitivity to understand the transformations that culture has undergone in recent years. And that old formulas will not solve new problems.

We remain available to continue our cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, in the certainty that we can share our vision and goals.

[1] Gilberto Gil and the politics of music – New York Times