Saturday, December 25, 2004

Noam Chomsky & Subramanya Bharathi

The disconnect in US democracy
October 29 2004
AMERICANS may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalising the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalised quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, "That's politics." But it isn't. It's only a small part of politics.
The population has been carefully excluded from political activity, and not by accident. An enormous amount of work has gone into that disenfranchisement. During the 1960s the outburst of popular participation in democracy terrified the forces of convention, which mounted a fierce counter-campaign. Manifestations show up today on the left as well as the right in the effort to drive democracy back into the hole where it belongs.
Bush and Kerry can run because they're funded by basically the same concentrations of private power. Both candidates understand that the election is supposed to stay away from issues. They are creatures of the public relations industry, which keeps the public out of the election process. The concentration is on what they call a candidate's "qualities," not policies. Is he a leader? A nice guy? Voters end up endorsing an image, not a platform.
Last month a Gallup poll asked Americans why they're voting for either Bush or Kerry. From a multiple-choice list, a mere 6 percent of Bush voters and 13 percent of Kerry voters picked the candidates' "agendas/ideas/ platforms/goals." That's how the political system prefers it. Often the issues that are most on people's minds don't enter at all clearly into the debate.
A new report by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, which regularly monitors American attitudes on international issues, illustrates the disconnect.
A considerable majority of Americans favour "working within the United Nations, even when it adopts policies that the United States does not like." Most Americans also believe that "countries should have the right to go to war on their own only if they (have) strong evidence that they are in imminent danger of being attacked," thus rejecting the bipartisan consensus on "pre-emptive war."
On Iraq, polls by the Program on International Policy Attitudes show that a majority of Americans favour letting the UN take the lead in issues of security, reconstruction and political transition in that country. Last March, Spanish voters actually could vote on these matters.
It is notable that Americans hold these and similar views (say, on the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol) in virtual isolation: They rarely hear them in campaign speeches, and probably regard them as idiosyncratic. At the same time the level of activism for social change may be higher than ever in the US. But it's disorganised. Nobody knows what's happening on the other side of town.
By contrast, consider the fundamentalist Christians. Earlier this month in Jerusalem, Pat Robertson said that he would start a third party if Bush and the Republicans waver in support for Israel. That's a serious threat because he might be able to mobilise tens of millions of evangelical Christians who already form a significant political force, thanks to extensive work over decades on numerous issues, and with candidates at levels from school board to president.
The presidential race isn't devoid of issue-oriented activism. During the primaries, before the main event fully gears up, candidates can raise issues and help organise popular support for them, thereby influencing campaigns to some extent. After the primaries, mere statements make a minimal impact without a significant organisation behind them.
The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centres of power can't ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labour movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women's movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years.
But you can't ignore the elections. You should recognise that one of the two groups now contending for power happens to be extremist and dangerous, and has already caused plenty of trouble and could cause plenty more.
As for myself, I've taken the same position as in 2000. If you are in a swing state, you should vote to keep the worst guys out. If it's another state, do what you feel is best. There are many considerations. Bush and his administration are publicly committed to dismantling and destroying whatever progressive legislation and social welfare has been won by popular struggles over the past century.
Internationally, they are calling for dominating the world by military force, including even the "ownership of space" to expand monitoring and first strike capabilities.
So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.
WHAT GOES AROUND finally does come around, even if it takes years. With a court in Chile ordering the house arrest of General Augusto Pinochet, President of the country between 1973 and 1990, and charging him for the murders of his political opponents, the former dictator is closer to standing trial for the disappearances and killings that marked his brutal regime. The ruling is a remarkable victory for all those involved in the long campaign to bring a legal case against him. Human rights organisations estimate that more than 3,000 people were killed or had disappeared and up to 28,000 others were tortured for their political beliefs during Gen. Pinochet's 17-year rule. The 89-year-old General has so far managed to avoid standing trial by citing age and ill health. But the untiring efforts of those seeking accountability and punishment for those crimes have ensured that the law came back at him again and again, never allowing him to bask too long in the feeling of having got away. In its ruling, the court said it found Gen. Pinochet healthy enough to stand trial on the basis of an interview he gave to a U. S. television station in 2003, during which he appeared coherent, lucid and mentally alert. An appeals court upheld the verdict, rejecting renewed claims by the former President's lawyers that he was too ill to face the charges, and despite his hospitalisation two days before his appeal was to be taken up.
The charges in the case under consideration relate to Operation Condor, a clandestine joint mission by the military dictatorships of Latin America in the 1970s to hunt down and eliminate dissidents. Although Gen. Pinochet has claimed he was unaware of the mission, and that it was hatched and executed by junior officers in the Chilean military, it is quite clear that an inter-intelligence services plan drawn up by Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay to help one another kidnap and "disappear" political opponents must have had clearance from the highest levels in each of those countries. All these countries are now democracies but so far, none of the perpetrators has been brought to book. In Argentina and Uruguay, it may never happen thanks to amnesty laws. In Chile too, the Pinochet regime awarded itself an amnesty. But it is a measure of the fledgling democracy's determination to settle the unquiet ghosts of the past that the judiciary has refused to apply this amnesty. More than 200 military officers are on trial for human rights violations committed in the Pinochet era and 15 others have been convicted. Soon after the United Kingdom freed him from a
17-month house arrest in London and allowed him to return to Chile in 2000, Gen. Pinochet lost his personal parliamentary immunity against prosecution, which he held by virtue of his position as senator for life. But it was restored a year later on grounds that he was suffering from "mild dementia." Earlier this year, a court stripped him of the immunity, paving the way for last week's ruling.
Irrespective of the outcome of the case, the developments in Chile offer a morality tale. States cannot commit crimes against their people with impunity. Grievous wounds rulers inflict on their people do not heal with time. They fester and the quest for justice and truth only grows stronger as the years pass. Last year, Gen. Pinochet's son said what he wanted for his father was "for the country to forgive, but not forget... " The Chilean people have justly spurned his plea.
Bharati and his copyright
By Mira T. Sundara Rajan
Many problems affecting Subramania Bharati's works amount to clear violations of the author's moral rights under the Indian copyright law.
C. SUBRAMANIA BHARATI died in 1921 at the early age of 39. The copyright in Bharati's works was taken over by the Government of Madras State in 1949, and, after the appearance of some initial publications, given as a gift to the people of India. From this time onwards, anyone in India would be free to undertake publication of Bharati's works. Publishers of Bharati's works would not be required to pay a copyright fee, or to submit their editions to any external process of review, whether administered by the Government, the universities, or other bodies of scholars.
The public gift of Bharati's copyright led to an explosion of activity. Publishers saw an extraordinary opportunity, in both commercial and cultural terms. Eighty-three years after his death, Bharati's writings are indeed as readily available "as a matchbox," as the poet once dreamed. However, the publication rush has also led to numerous problems - problems that the Government failed to foresee, and that will now be difficult to remedy.
In dealing with Bharati's writings, the Government faced a classic copyright dilemma. On the one hand, it wanted to promote the widest possible access to, and dissemination of, these important works. On the other hand, it could not sidestep the challenge of protecting the integrity of these works, and the stature of the personality behind them. In Bharati's case, the most effective approach to copyright in relation to culturally-important works may actually involve the joint pursuit of objectives that are often thought of as contradictory in copyright parlance: attempting to fulfil simultaneously the goals of dissemination and integrity. These two fundamental objectives of copyright policy should be recognised as interdependent and complementary means of furthering the cause of Indian culture.
Over the past 75 years, numerous editions of Bharati's poetry have appeared. His works have been translated extensively, and both he, as a "character," and his works have been featured in a number of films. However, the expansion of public access to Bharati's works has been matched by a decline in the quality of publication, from both technical and critical points of view.
The problems that have accumulated over the years in the publication of Bharati's works include careless printing that incorporates both typographical and interpretative errors into the final texts; false attribution of the works of other poets to Bharati; inaccurate and inappropriate translations; misleading representations of the poet's personality; and erroneous statements about his life and works. How can such problems be resolved? It seems natural to turn towards the law, and towards copyright law in particular, for guidance.
Copyright in India is governed by the Indian Copyright Act of 1957. If Bharati's copyright had been allowed to run its course unimpeded under Indian legislation of the time - the landmark British colonial statute of 1911 - it would have expired in 1971, 50 years after the end of the year in which the author died. It is noteworthy that this period of copyright protection is well short of the accepted international norm today, lifetime of the author and 70 years after his death, as well as being shorter than today's Indian norm of life plus 60 years. By making the copyright public, the Government of India further curtailed the enjoyment of the usual period of copyright protection. It is important to be aware that the policy behind protecting copyright after the author's death is to ensure that his family is able to survive and, indeed, to enjoy the economic benefit of its ancestor's success. The Bharati family was never in a position to do so.
However, the expiry of copyright - not natural in this case but brought about by the conscious actions of the Indian Government - does not dispose of copyright matters in the poet's work. This is because copyright is not limited to the economic rights of the author. Rather, it includes something called a "moral right": the author may have sold his copyright, but he continues to retain other kinds of right in his work, including the right to be acknowledged as the author of his own work, and the right to restrain the mistreatment of his work. These rights seek to protect the author's personal relationship with his own work, and in doing so, they play a valuable role in protecting the integrity of important works of culture that make up a country's cultural heritage. Just as moral rights continue to stay with the author even after he has parted with the economic rights in his work, they continue to subsist in his work even after the author's death. The author can appoint someone to be the executor of his moral rights after his death; if he does not do so, his heirs will be entrusted with the protection of his moral rights. In theory, moral rights can last forever. In India, moral rights are protected in Section 57 of the Indian Copyright Act, and, in keeping with the theory behind these rights, they continue to remain in the author's works in perpetuity. The protection of moral rights in the Copyright Act is strongly supported by Indian judges, who view these rights as an important tool in the protection of Indian authors against unscrupulous commercial exploitation of their works, and in the preservation of India's cultural heritage.
Many of the problems affecting Bharati's works amount to clear violations of the author's moral rights under the Indian copyright law. What are the implications of moral rights for protecting his works today?
The expression, "moral rights," is itself a somewhat awkward translation into English of the original term in French law, droit moral. The connotations of this French expression are quite different from its English equivalent, evoking, rights of a "personal or spiritual" nature, above all.
The two main types of moral rights are the rights of attribution and integrity. The right of attribution allows an author to assert authorship of his work, and to prevent another person from claiming authorship of his work. In addition, an author may prevent the attribution of works to him which he did not create.
The right of integrity allows the author to protest any distortion, mutilation, modification, or other treatment of his work which is, in the language of the Berne Convention, "prejudicial to his honour or reputation." In contrast to the highly specific right of attribution, the right of integrity is a broad right which allows authors to object to a wide range of practices - including editing, publishing, performance, and possibly exhibition - which may not be compatible with the intentions of the author.
The Indian Copyright Act currently provides protection for authors' moral rights in conformity with the international standard established in the Berne Convention.
Many of the problems involving Bharati's works may effectively amount to violations of the author's moral rights. The false attribution of the works of other authors to Bharati contravenes his right of attribution. Faulty printing is a modification of his work that could prejudice his reputation, depending on the nature and extent of the errors, and violates his right to the integrity of his work.
In addition, the issue of appropriation of Bharati's personality is one that arises frequently in practice and must be considered. Arguably, it is logical for moral rights standards to include some kind of protection for an author's personality, since the moral rights doctrine is itself based on the idea that the author's personality is reflected in his works. The protections offered by moral rights clearly implicate a number of legal concepts outside copyright's traditional reach - for example, the laws of privacy and misappropriation of personality come to mind. Misrepresentation of an author's personality may have an impact not only on how his work is received, but also on how it is interpreted and understood.
Notwithstanding these pragmatic concerns, a strong case can be made for extending perpetual protection to Bharati's moral rights, as would have been possible prior to the 1994 amendments to the Copyright Act. Because Bharati's works entered the public domain only three decades after his death, protection of his copyright was actually curtailed long before the time when it would have expired "naturally" - that is, in accordance with statutory provisions. In effect, these immortal and incomparable works were denied even the level of copyright protection granted to ordinary works. Moreover, given that interest in the works of important authors often develops long after their death, it seems unnecessarily restrictive to limit the protection of their moral rights to the duration of their economic rights. In the case of cultural works of outstanding importance, the perpetual protection of moral rights would provide a valuable means of supervising the treatment of these works to ensure that their integrity is maintained on an ongoing basis. In Bharati's case, his works are not only outstanding examples of literature, but they are also historical and social documents of great value.
(The author holds a D. Phil from Oxford, and is a leading international expert on copyright law. She is a great-granddaughter of poet C. Subramania Bharati.
An uncondensed version of this essay can be obtained by writing to

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1 comment:

SunilKumar Elamkulam Muthukurussi said...

Good article Naam
I have not seen this before

s e a r c h

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