UNESCO, World Anti-Piracy Observatory and YouTube

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi


UNESCO’s World Anti-Piracy Observatory

Game  Einstein, Rapid Eye, Picassissi, Mary Lotter, Bluesman and Bill Creats are assaulted and robbed. Help these creative guys fight against the pirates! In German only

Screenshot of Microsoft's pirate hunting game at stop-piracy.ch. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

On April 23, 2010, for the World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO launched the World Anti-Piracy Observatory (WAPO). Now, the terms “piracy” and “anti-piracy” are heavily loaded, most often wielded by the content and software industry and the associations representing its several branches: MPAA, RIAA, US Authors Guild, Association of American Publishers, IFPI etc., or by joint efforts of the same, like Stop-Piracy in Switzerland, on the line expounded in the latter’s Microsoft-sponsored flash game:

Whatever the number of points you score, you get a message saying:

Danke für deine Unterstüzung. Leider wurde dein kreativer Kopf sehr schnell von den Ideenpiraten ausgeraubt. Deshalb verzichtet er auf weitere Ideen und steht schon morgen ab 7 Uhr in der Fabrik.

I.e., “Thank you for your support. Unfortunately your creative head [i.e., the creator character you have picked to play the game with] was very quickly plundered by pirates. He therefore gave up further ideas and is now clocking in at the factory at 7 a.m.” While some content producers do know that mere ideas cannot be protected, this game does illustrate the attitude usually connected with the use of the terms “piracy” and “anti-piracy.” And so it is rather odd to see UNESCO – i.e., the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – adopt them.

Call to WAPO for a public domain calculator

Hence Hartwig Thomas’ message to UNESCO about WAPO’s collection of national copyright laws:

Although I am somewhat surprised that an organization dealing with culture and education should use such a heavily connotated term as “piracy” and although I do not agree that all aspects of the WAPO effort are beneficial for the world’s cultural heritage, I applaud the plan to collect 150 copyright laws on the WAPO website by UNESCO. Please include a world-wide public domain calculator! I.e., a legally reliable way to determine, whether a cultural work is part of the free cultural heritage (which is the main concern of UNESCO!) based on the date and place of its publication and the date of death of its author, due to expiration of the copyright protection. Such a calculator would have to take into account that

  • some works may have been in the Public Domain due to an earlier regulation and were not reprivatized when the law last changed,
  • some countries have stated particular extensions for the time of the second world war and thus the application of the rule of 70 year after the author’s death may be extended by up to 12 years.

Yours respectfully,

Hartwig Thomas

(UNESCO: Collection of National Copyright Laws – Call for Public Domain Calculator. Digitale Allmend. 2010-04-24).

Let us hope that UNESCO/WAPO follow this suggestion of creating an international public domain calculator. Michael Brewer and ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy have made a very user-friendly flash Digital Copyright Slider (with an html version for people who have to use text-to-speech technology – or prefer text to flash), but it only covers books published in the US. The elaboration of such a public domain calculator would seem more in line than pirate hunting with UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2013 (document 34 C/4 (PDF) 480 KB), which insists on:

OVERARCHING OBJECTIVE 5: Building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication…

STRATEGIC PROGRAMME OBJECTIVE 12: Enhancing universal access to information and knowledge…

116. UNESCO will also support institutional efforts to build in various countries the capacities of information and communication professionals to create, disseminate and preserve information and knowledge while upholding high ethical and professional standards. Attention will also be paid to promoting the use of multi-platform technologies in order to improve the processing, creation, presentation and dissemination of content. UNESCO will also enhance the capacities of users to access, analyse and determine the relevance and quality of information beneficial to their needs….

119. In this context, strong support will be given to the development of open courseware [sic] as well as free and open source software for extending and disseminating knowledge in different educational settings.

In fact, as James Boyle and the other participants to the panel on “Harmonization of copyright law and copyright management” of the 8th Communia Workshop emphasized, one of the main obstacles to the creation of open educational resources is the present complexity of copyright. For instance, prohibitions have been globalized, but exceptions are left to each country’s decision, which results in some exquisite absurdities, as for instance the prohibition to extend the educational exception beyond borders. So a student at Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano, Switzerland), who downloads onto his cell phone copyrighted course materials placed on the university’s LMS under the Swiss educational exception, violates Swiss copyright law if he then takes his cell to the Italian part of Ponte Tresa, ca 10 km away. But an even greater obstacle to creating materials for opencourseware is the difficulty in knowing what is copyright-protected and what is now in the public domain. In Europe, Google Book Search only scans library books published before 1870, lest they accidentally violate the copyright of some precocious and long-living author. A teacher is likely to be even warier than that when preparing online course materials. Hence the need for the international public domain calculator suggested by Hartwig Thomas.

WAPO’s features

But let’s go back to WAPO’s features as described in the main page of its site.

collection of national copyright laws (already mentioned): does it really make sense to have a new list when WIPO already has its Collection of Laws for Electronic Access (CLEA), a real database that “provides access to intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions as well as to treaties on intellectual property” and can be search by combining countries with several other criteria? Granted, the WAPO list has copyright laws for a few countries that are apparently missing from the WIPO database. But it would make more sense for UNESCO to give this missing info to WIPO so that it could be integrated into the more efficient tool.

information about “anti-piracy legislation.” As a Swiss citizen, I must protest at the inclusion of Switzerland in that page: our lawmakers may not be perfect, but they know their turf well enough not to legislate about concepts like “piracy” and “anti-piracy” that have no legal value – except in maritime law.

In fact, while the word “piracy” occurs several time in the PDF for Switzerland linked to in that  page, it only does so

  • in  biased descriptions of documents  that do not use the term, e.g., “The Cybercrime Coordination Unit Switzerland provides each year a rapport of their activities and actions against piracy,” when not a single one of the reports listed in the linked page mentions “piracy” and there are only very cursory mentions of violations of copyright law in stat graphs because copyright law violations are of cantonal and not federal competence.
  • about projects by content producers’ organisations, the pet of the authors of this PDF being SAFE, “Swiss Anti-Piracy-Federation,” whose safe.ch site seems to have gone into deep coma some time in 2008, though it’s difficult to tell because none of the news items are properly dated.

and the same deformation probably obtains for WAPO’s information about “anti-piracy legislation” for other countries. What is puzzling about these PDFs is that they are based on information provided to UNESCO by the countries’ governments before WAPO was launched. Thus the one for Switzerland, for instance, mentioning “Country profile based on information provided by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, July 2009” on p. 2.  Were the DFA – and the other countries’ equivalent ministries –  consulted about this re-use of their information for this “anti-piracy” operation?

News and events pertaining to anti-piracy activities worldwide: This News page oddly showcases (i.e., today April 28, 2010) as “Latest News”:

Digital Economy Bill approved by the UK House of Lords
The Bill includes a “three strikes” rule that would allow a suspension of Internet access of persistent online copyright infringers. More…

where, by clicking on More…, one discovers that the item is dated 04-04-2010. And then the News page goes on to list more recent items, up to 22-04-2010, but apparently WAPO missed the official publication of the consolidated ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) text on April 21, 2010, which one would have thought was right in the field of WAPO and which is available from keionline.org/node/831 and the sites of the ACTA negotiators.

Moreover, WAPO’s News page does not have an RSS feed or tags (well, none of the UNESCO.org pages do) so if you want to get really updated on international copyright news, it is far easier to  subscribe to the feeds, e.g., of Michael Geist’s blog or of La Quadrature du Net: they may be more on the users’ side than on WAPO’s and the content industry’s about copyright issues, but they report faithfully all its moves and documents.

Information on best practices in the field of anti-piracy: the best practices page only links to specific but not always relevant pages of the PDFs for each country downloadable from the “anti-piracy legislation” page.

Awareness-raising initiatives and capacity-building tools for free and direct download and use: no link for that item in the description text, but the somewhat overcrowded navigation menu has Public Awareness and Capacity-Building. As  the best practices page, the Public Awareness and Capacity-Building pages only link to specific but not always relevant pages of the PDFs for each country downloadable from the “anti-piracy legislation” page.

Presentation of WAPO on YouTube

The launch of WAPO was presented on YouTube in UNESCO highlights the World Book and Copyright Day (23 April) uploaded by UNESCO on April 21, 2010, described as: “On the occasion of the World Book and Copyright Day (23 April) Petya Totcharova, UNESCO’s Specialist on the copyright, highlights the importance of the fight against piracy to preserve creativity”:

Only automatically captioned

Strangely enough for an organization aiming at “building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication” (see above) and in a video dealing with such a sensitive issue, UNESCO chose not to caption this video themselves but to trust YouTube’s automatic captioning instead – with rather bizarre results:

Automatic captioning: olympians for the said lunch all the world and to cut issue said victory
Screenshot of UNESCO’s video, with automatic captioning, at 0:01:06. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Ms Totcharova is actually saying:”…of UNESCO, is the launch of the World Anti-Piracy Observatory.”

(for more similar oddities in the automatic captions of this video, see the comparison table in etcjournal.wikispaces.com/unesco-wapo-youtube).

Humanly captioned version

Considering the importance of UNESCO’s choice to join the piracy hunt, I made another version of the video – without images, but with human captions reflecting more closely what Ms Totcharova says:
The captioning files for that video were made at – and can be downloaded from, after signing in – dotsub.com/view/4f324937-8d40-4df9-8431-b52269d79ddf. They will work on the original video too, provided the person/s in charge of UNESCO‘s YouTube channel take the few seconds needed to add them.

Call for the accessibility of all UNESCO’s YouTube videos

As we have seen above, WAPO’s features don’t add much to the already available – and often better structured – information about copyright and copyright enforcement (or “anti-piracy,” to use WAPO’s jargon). And UNESCO’s past endeavors  in the field of copyright have not always been successful: see the 1982 WIPO and UNESCO Working Group on Exceptions for Access to Protected Works for Visually and Auditory Handicapped Persons. Almost 30 years on, the blind are still trying to get these exceptions and are still facing the obdurate opposition from rich countries and from the content producers’ “anti-piracy” lobby at WIPO (see the pages tagged Treaty for blind and other reading disabilities on Knowkedge Ecology International).

Therefore, if UNESCO is in earnest about “Enhancing universal access to information and knowledge,” it should concentrate on really useful small projects, like the elaboration of  the international public domain calculator advocated by Hartwig Thomas – and on not cutting off people from accessing its content. In this field, the Directive 2007/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities says:

… (64) The right of persons with a disability and of the elderly to participate and be integrated in the social and cultural life of the Community is inextricably linked to the provision of accessible audiovisual media services. The means to achieve accessibility should include, but need not be limited to, sign language, subtitling, audio-description and easily understandable menu navigation.

As UNESCO‘s YouTube channel is actually entitled “UNESCO TV,” and as UNESCO’s headquarters are in Paris, France, EU, this channel should comply with that directive – besides UNESCO’s declared commitment to “building inclusive knowledge societies.” Of course:

  • the understandability of the YouTube menu navigation is beyond users’ control,
  • YouTube does not support audio description,
  • while the YouTube annotation feature allows linking to another video that might be used for sign language, it does not embed the second video within the first, let alone synchronize them

But captioning videos is very easy with the present online tools and could even be done collaboratively: this is how Lee and Sacha LeFever’s “In Plain English” video tutorials (up to March 29, 2009) have been subtitled at DotSUB in English and several other languages by people who just wanted to have a version subtitled in a given language.

Considering the cultural and social interest of the videos in UNESCO‘s YouTube channel, they would most likely attract the same kind of volunteer captioning/subtitling. And it takes only 5 clicks to transfer a subtitles/captions file from DotSUB to a YouTube video.

2 Responses

  1. Updates:

    • See UNESCO’s bizarre World Anti-Piracy Observatory by Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, 2010-05-06
    • Still no answer to e-mails sent by various people about WAPO issues to address indicated in WAPO’s Contact US page.
    • Comments to the UNESCO highlights the World Book and Copyright Day (23 April) since April 23 still await moderation.
    • Re WAPO’s Collection of National Copyright Laws: a [Disclaimer] inked to on each country’s page in this collection says: The information may be used only for research, educational and legal non-commercial purposes, provided that any use and reproduction of data be accompanied by an acknowledgement of UNESCO Collection of National Copyright Laws as the source (© UNESCO).: This is unwarranted and bizarre, because national copyright laws are either in the public domain or copyrighted to the parliament. Besides, in several cases, UNESCO only downloaded the law from the country’s site, renamed the file and reuploaded it to its server.
    • Resources about UNESCO’s World Anti-Piracy Observatory are / will be bookmarked under <a href=http://www.diigo.com/user/calmansi/wapo"diigo.com/user/calmansi/wapo

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