Thursday, 6 September 2012

Wallace, Gromit and Propaganda - the Reply

Three things have happened since I aired my contempt to the copyright propaganda campaign currently taking place at the Scienceworks Museum under the guise of a Wallace and Gromit exhibition: First, my Twitter campaign got worldwide spread once Asher Wolf took it upon herself to promote it. Second, Scienceworks finally published the comment I added to their exhibition’s website (see here; search the page for “Moshe” if you can’t find my contribution). And third, I received a personal email from Genevieve Fahey, the manager of Scienceworks.
As much as I would love to, I cannot post Fahey’s email here because of copyrights (you know me, copyright is the pillar of fire guiding my way through the desert of life). However, I will say the email is short, polite and well written; I very much appreciate her taking the time to write to me personally and her invitation for me to give her a call to further discuss my concerns.
Specifically around my concerns, Fahey’s main points were:
    •    The exhibition is around the concepts of invention and innovation.
    •    References to IP laws reflect current Australian legislation.
    •    The intention was to portray IP concepts to young audiences.
I hope I managed to convey her message properly without violating rights. I do, however, have my gripes with the 2nd and 3rd points and I do have a problem with narrowing down my complaint to a short email / phone call. I will therefore post my draft reply here and allow for feedback to gather for a few days before emailing Genevieve Fahey back.
Without further ado, here is my draft reply:


Dear Genevieve,

Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns regarding the Wallace and Gromit exhibition currently running at Scienceworks. Yes, I would be happy to further discuss these concerns with you; however, given their scope I think a phone call would do them great injustice. I therefore resort to answering you in writing.
My main problem with the Wallace and Gromit exhibition is that, in effect, this exhibition has been using the power that the Wallace and Gromit brand has over children in order to wash them with copyright propaganda that has little to do with invention and innovation. I see nothing wrong with bringing IP and copyright matters to the public’s attention; on the contrary, I think these matters are vital to the development of our culture. However, I do have a big problem with the way Scienceworks chose to do this.

First, I consider the exhibition to be grossly one sided in favour of the copyright industry. It provides a word to word account of the propaganda coming out of Hollywood studios and record labels, but totally fails to mention other views or points of contention. For example, in your email you mentioned that the exhibition conforms with current Australian legislation. Let’s examine that.
According to surveys, some 40% of the Australian population admit to illegally download copyrighted material off the Internet (refer to Delimeter at http://delimiter.com.au/2012/08/23/news-ltd-chief-slams-scumbag-internet-pirates/). That is a significant portion of the population; it implies that people in your direct vicinity are downloading pirated material. Surely the position of such a large proportion of the population cannot be dismissed as easily as the exhibition does? Perhaps it would have been worthwhile to mention these observations?
Second, it is clear that our copyright legislation is suffering from numerous issues. It’s broken, and the case of Optus and the AFL clearly demonstrates the existence of some weaknesses (refer to news coverage at http://delimiter.com.au/2012/09/07/high-court-doesnt-feel-the-optus-vibe/ and to expert legal analysis at http://www.idealaw.com.au/default.asp?page=cms_optusnrlhca). Weaknesses that, might I remind you, are totally ignored by the Wallace and Gromit exhibition.
We don’t have to go to the bleeding edge  either: if you recorded off air TV before 2006, you have been in violation of Australian copyright legislation. It is very obvious the vast majority of Australians broke the law there, but then again – so what? Yet the exhibition and its related educational material fail to mention deficiencies or problems, instead singing the praise of copyright.
IP matters are just as problematic. Can we truly claim there is no controversy around the patenting of human genes? Does society not have an ethical problem to deal with when patented medicine is effectively blocking residents of poorer countries from dealing with some of this world’s worst diseases, protecting the interests of big pharmaceuticals instead?
We recently heard how USA courts deem Samsung to owe Apple a billion dollars for violating its IP. Many experts quickly pointed how, in effect, Apple was using IP laws to block innovation (for one of many examples, please refer to IT Wire at http://www.itwire.com/2012-06-01-13-40-03/browse/c-level/56319-apple-samsung-and-intellectual-honesty). However, there is no shade of this complexity at the Wallace and Gromit exhibition; all we hear is how great IP legislation is at supporting innovation. Well, given the above examples, it is clear this is not always the case.
Then there is the case for successful alternatives to copyrights and IP. Linux, the operating system running most of this world's servers and probably Museum Victoria's, too, is the result of a collaborative effort between developers that publish their code as open source that is free for all to use. Indeed, Google has used that code to power its Android operating system, the world's most prolific mobile phone operating system that any manufacturer can install on their devices. They can do so because there is no copyright! And what about Firefox, one of the most popular Internet browsers? Firefox is not IP protected either. Need I mention Wikipedia? It seems as if the only place where IP protection is all encompassing is Scienceworks.

Next, I argue that the Wallace and Gromit exhibition is often factually incorrect.
Take, for example, the image in Attachment 1, taken at the exhibition, which shows the record labels and distributors pushing all the money they gather towards the artists. The sad reality is, artists receive only a fraction of the incomes; some time the fraction is all but infinitesimal (refer to Crikey’s analysis as an example at http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/05/23/spotify-and-streaming-music-a-black-hole-for-artists/).


Copyrights often work directly against the interests of the artists. For example, on Sunday 2 September the world of science fiction convened at Chicago to hand its yearly Hugo awards, but the live streaming of the event was blocked due to copyright related reasons that were later revealed to be incorrect (refer to news coverage at http://io9.com/5940036/how-copyright-enforcement-robots-killed-the-hugo-awards). Numerous artists lost the exposure they should have had from this, their night of nights. They were "protected" in the name of a concept that, according to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, is there only to serve and protect the artist. The problem, by the way, is not limited to the geeks and nerds of the science fiction community: Michelle Obama was hit just the same (refer to http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/youtube-flags-democrats-convention-video-on-copyright-grounds/).
At the more direct level there is the Wallace and Gromit exhibition airing a video portraying kids discussing the evil of copying and how bad it is (refer to the image in Attachment 2). That single exhibit was responsible for the bulk of of my anger at the exhibition: how can anyone claim that copying is bad, especially in the context of children, when all it is that children do is copy? How else can a child learn a language and acquire the skills required for being a contributing member of society if not through copying?


Our civilization depends on copying; yet our science museum is happy to claim copying is outright evil.

The third and last major gripe I have with the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, in its current form, is its use and abuse of children.
My point is made very clear by the video I referred to above, where we have children telling other children, the exhibition’s audience, that copying is bad. The ease with which children’s innocence is sacrificed on the altar of the copyright industry’s interests sends shivers down my spine.
As you point out in your email, the exhibition is targeted at young audiences. This brings in mind the exhibition's stereotyping: the record labels in Attachment 1 are, for reasons that elude me, represented as cute toy ducks; copyright infringers, on the other hand, are seafaring pirates (refer to the image in Attachment 3). I would have argued such stereotyping is reminiscent of tactics employed by humanity’s worst regimes, only that by contemporary "Pirates of the Caribbean" standards the pirates have the advantage of a much "cooler" image. Still, it’s the thought that counts, and the intention is quite clear: without much in the way of supportive evidence, the Wallace and Gromit exhibition seeks to implant within the minds of its young audience the image of a cute and cuddly music recording industry and the image of an evil pirate copyright infringer (those evil 40% of Australians). In other words, this is no objective presentation of facts; it has the abuse of children’s minds written all over it.


When examining the Wallace and Gromit exhibition at the higher lever, the combination of its single sided / single agenda presentation, the highly selective twisting of facts, and the blatant attempt to twist children’s minds all lead to an inevitable conclusion: The Wallace and Gromit exhibition is nothing more than a propaganda campaign.
Freedom of speech allows propaganda the same place it allows all other forms of expression, yet it is obviously out of place at an institution whose core purpose is the promotion of the values at the core of science: empiricism, scepticism and the promotion of the inquisitive mind to name but a few. In airing the Wallace and Gromit exhibition, Scienceworks is therefore following on the footpath paved by the likes of The Creation Museum as it presents its own non evidence based agenda and tries to influence the minds of its visitors in the process.
I am therefore extremely annoyed with both Scienceworks and Museum Victoria for allowing this to happen in the first place. This is not what I have been paying my membership money for; this one is an exhibition that contradicts everything these institutions should be standing for.


Sincerely,
Moshe Reuveni


9/9/12 update: Thanks for all the feedback. I emailed my reply to Scienceworks tonight.

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