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Episode 66

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Sharing is not a Crime

In the internet age, getting, downloading, and sharing pictures, information, videos or music is so simple that almost everyone sees it as a normal thing. In fact, for many of us it’s something we do every day. An everyday practice that —as seen by copyright law— makes us all criminals. But still, we generally don’t think about it, because there are no consequences. Diego Gómez, an environmental conservation student, wasn’t concerned about that either, until he received a call in 2013 that would change his life and all his plans for the future.

You can read a Spanish transcript of the episode.

Or you can also read an English translation.

Laura Rojas Aponte, producer of this episode, is the host of Cosas de Internet, a podcast about the intersection of technology and culture.

If you want to get our new episodes via Whatsapp, please text us at +573229502192. You can also join Radio Ambulante’s Closed Facebook group to discuss with others around each week’s story.


Transcript

Translated by: Patrick Moseley.

 

[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Hey, Ambulantes: Our live shows are just around the corner. Do you have your tickets? There aren’t that many left. They’re going to be on Tuesday, September 25 in Washington D. C., and on Thursday, September 27 in New York City. We’ll be presenting stories from Chile, Mexico, Cuba, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador and the US. Stories about identity, strange legacies, obscene machines, and more. We promise you’ll have a great time. The show is fully bilingual and accessible for people who don’t speak Spanish. To get your tickets go to radioambulante.org/envivo.

Thank you and see you there!

 

Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Today we’re starting with him:

[Diego Gómez]: I’m Diego Gómez, uh, I was born in Colombia, in el Norte de Valle, a coffee producing region…

[Daniel]: Diego is 30 years old, he studied Biology at the University of Quindío in Armenia, a small town in Colombia. After finishing his studies in 2013, he went to Costa Rica. He had received a grant to get his Master’s in Conservation.

[Diego]: I was still really happy because… Because I had gotten the grant, because I was in another country… Because, I don’t know, I was coming into my own professionally.

[Daniel]: After being there for 3 months, his studies were in full swing and he went on his first field expedition…That day…

[Diego]: We were at a super pretty beach here in Costa Rica in the Caribbean, where there’s a really pretty national park. And then all of sudden I get a frantic call from my dad like: “Hey, what law did you break, a… a notice came from the attorney general and your under investigation…”

[Daniel]: Someone had filed a complaint against Diego. His dad read him the notice, which was rather short on details…

[Diego]: It just said: “copyright and related ownership rights”, but it didn’t say who was making the complaint or why….

[Daniel]: Zero details.

[Diego]: I was thinking about it in the moment…hm…I mean, I went through my life in my head three times to see what law I had broken but I couldn’t think of…[laughs] anything.

[Daniel]: But clearly there was something, right? That call from his dad was the start of a legal odyssey that would last several years. It would change Diego’s life plans, his professional options, his whole outlook on the future. Only, at that time, he didn’t even know why.

Our producer today, Laura Rojas Aponte, will tell us the story.

[Laura Rojas Aponte, producer]: Let’s back up a little… When Diego was still in Colombia, during his first years at college…

[Diego]: I started getting really interested in amphibians and reptiles.

[Laura]: That has its own name. It’s called “herpetology.”
[Diego]: Actually, it’s a really ugly name [Laughs]… who knows what people are going to imagine. I think it’s more… it seems more like a medical term [Laughs], than the study of a group of animals.

[Laura]: Diego’s university didn’t have a lot of money. He remembers the library was small and the biology section wasn’t up-to-date. It’s difficult to find information on such specific topics, like herpetology. He and his friends had to get creative.
[Diego]: What we did was “commission” people to go to, to the capital, Bogotá, and get free or borrowed books and make copies of the books, uh, of chapters or go to the literature in scientific journals.[Laura]: So he started a study group that, among other things, shared academic texts. One day, Diego found a thesis on salamanders on a Facebook group. It had been conducted in Bogotá. To read it you had to download a file using one of those long links that has an expiration date.  

[Diego]: They’re up for a time and, and, and, then you can’t access them anymore.

[Laura]: So he… very graciously…

[Diego]: What I did was, uh, uploaded it on a platform called Scribd to pass the link onto other people in the study group we had formed in college.

[Laura]: Scribd is a document sharing platform. It’s advantage is that the links are easy to use… As soon as you click the link, you can see the files; you don’t have to download anything weird.

And well, in 2009, while Diego was in college, Scribd was a rather popular option because you don’t have to pay to use it. It was ideal. In fact, his classmates ended up referencing the salamander thesis…

[Diego]: …To know what species we were finding in the area. So it was more like a document for occasional reference than something you’d read or anything like that.

[Laura]: Beyond using it like an encyclopedia, the document wasn’t really that memorable to them.

In fact, four years later, when Diego got the call from his dad, he couldn’t even remember the thesis. After he hung up, he went over his life again, trying to figure out what could be the cause of his problems.

[Diego]: The moment I realized, I wanted to look into everything that had happened and figure out what had happened. I needed the Internet and I didn’t have Internet access.

[Laura]: Because, of course, he was on a beach at a national park…

Two fellow students who he’d been getting to know leading up to the expedition were there as well. One of them had a phone with Internet access, so he told her what was going on.

[Diego]: I was a little embarrassed to tell them, like: ‘Hey, I’m under an attorney general investigation in Colombia and I need to find out what the hell is going on!’ That’s what it was… I mean, those were the first people to find out.

[Laura]: With a borrowed phone and almost no information, Diego went online to see if he could find something. Anything. But it was no use…

[Diego]: I started to think that maybe it was someone with the same name as me, or something like that, like hey, someone fucked up, someone named Diego Gómez Hoyos fucked up and, and they found me…

[Laura]: When he went back to San José…

[Diego]: I started going through my emails and my social media because I couldn’t remember…

[Laura]: He even called some of his friends from college and through the course of those conversations he came to understand that the attorney general was after him because of the thesis, that thesis about salamanders he had uploaded to Scribd in 2009.

[Diego]: I couldn’t remember what drove me to, to, to share that thesis and where I shared it. I didn’t remember any of that. I mean, it’s like, it was something I did occasionally, because obviously if someone asks you for an article you go and look for it, or if you have it you share it. I mean, it’s such an ordinary activity on collaborative research networks that…

[Laura]: He didn’t understand. He hadn’t claimed authorship of the thesis. In fact, when he shared the document he cited it like he had learned in school. So… Why were they after him?

In Spanish we say “Ley de derecho de autor”, but sometimes it’s worth remembering that in English they say copyright, ‘the right to copy.’ Those concepts start appearing in law in the early days of printing.

A little history: with the invention of the printing press, a book could reach a wider audience than it could before. But when a book was successful, the person who benefited the most wasn’t the author, but the owner of the printing press, who continued to produce books and get rich without sharing the fortune with the author.

This became an issue in the United Kingdom. So, in 1710, the British Crown stepped in and decreed that authors have the right to decide who can copy their writing and how many copies they can make. So, authors would sell their ‘right to copy’ to the printers and then as a result they made more money.

That law branched out into other countries and to all kinds of creative products. Today, photos, videos, movies, blogs, even podcasts…are copyrighted. The idea is that creators have control over what they make and that way they can charge for their work. Of course, between the 18th century and now, the law has become more complicated, but the core idea remains the same: providing authors with a business model.

The author of the thesis on salamanders, a herpetologist named Andrés Acosta Galvis, never gave Diego permission to copy his work. In other words, Diego didn’t have permission to pass the thesis from one platform to another and in Colombia that can be a criminal offense. But at the time, Diego couldn’t find a lot of information about this, because…

[Diego]: There aren’t a lot of cases in the world in which someone is charged for violating copyright in an academic context.

[Laura]: He couldn’t find any precedents, cases he could study to understand what was going on…

[Diego]: No one had ever seen what the repercussions might be if someone went to court for using information without any financial motives.

[Laura]: But it didn’t matter that his case was uncommon or that he was educating himself, the law is the law, and Diego had cause for alarm. For starters, copyright infringement can get you sent to prison in Colombia: 4 to 8 years. And the sentence has to be served in the country. In other words, he would have to go back.

[Diego]: Basically, it didn’t put me in a good mindset. How much are they going to fine me? Or what’s the process like? Or how much am I going to pay? No, I mean, it’s like: what the hell is going on?

[Laura]: Oh, and that’s another issue, the money. The Penal Code of Colombia calls for a sum of at least 26 minimum salaries, something like $7,000. And that’s in addition to legal fees: paying copyright experts is very expensive. And since Diego was in Costa Rica, he also had to pay for airfare and his stay in Bogotá in order to attend his own hearings…

The cost was too high. He had to do something.

[Laura]: During the first semester of 2013, the attorney general was in a stage called the “induction phase”, where they investigate, essentially, if a crime was committed and if the complaint bears on the case.  He had some time to get informed and Diego wondered…
[Diego]: Who can help me with this? I mean, who knows about this issue?

[Laura]: And he remembered that…
[Diego]: Before coming to Costa Rica I had gone to a multi-media exposition and a person who was talking about the topic was…

[Carolina Botero]: I’m Carolina Botero, and I’m the director of la Fundación Karisma.

[Laura]: An organization that, among other things, is concerned with defending information access in the digital age.

[Diego]: A light bulb went off and I said, of course, I’m going to get in touch with her!

[Laura]: So while the attorney general’s office was doing its thing, Diego wrote to Carolina and it seemed to her that his case was very important.

[Carolina]: Since 2006 I had been saying: Criminal law in Colombia is unfair. Innocent people are going to get caught up in this process and then, you come across this case…

[Laura]: She saw a legal precedent in the investigation against Diego. She explained to him:

[Diego]: There were no documented cases of the repercussions of applying copyright to activities in which information is normally shared absent of financial incentives and with strictly academic goals…

[Laura]: Toward the end of 2013, the induction phase was over. The attorney general decided that the complaint against Diego was firmly grounded: there was a suspected crime —the violation of “copyright and related ownership rights”— and a suspected culprit: Diego. So the mess turned a judicial process with two sides. On one side there was the attorney general and the author of the thesis (as the victim) an on the other there was Diego Gómez. A judge was going to decide who was right.

And since this is a trial, let me tell you about the victim: Andrés Acosta Galvis. He had presented his Master’s thesis in 2006 and years later when he found it circulating on the Internet, he contacted the authorities to file a complaint against Diego.

His accusation says that Diego was getting money every time someone downloaded the salamander thesis. And the thing is that  on that very year Scribd changed its business model and had new charges. Diego hadn’t earned a penny from the platform, but at the time the accuser didn’t know that.

Andrés also alleged that he had only given permission to distribute his thesis to la Universidad Nacional, where he had gotten his Master’s. In other words, if someone wanted to read the document, they would have to go to that college’s library in Bogotá.

I contacted Andrés several times for an interview, but he preferred not to speak with me…
[Diego]: The case started while I was starting my Master’s and obviously I had to be here in Costa Rica…

[Laura]: With his day to day studies in San José, it was easy to just ignore what was going on, forget about the issue. All in all, legal processes can be slow.  At times, Diego lived his life like nothing was happening.

[Diego]: I went through various phases. I mean, one was denial, not wanting to, uh, learn about issue or think about it all the time. As far as I was concerned I could just go to bed until the whole thing was over with and be done with it…

[Laura]: But obviously he couldn’t ignore it. He went back to speak to Carolina and she decided she was going to help him free of charge. For her, it was a mix between a moral duty and a chance to meet her organization’s goals.

And it’s true that with the arrival of the Internet, issues around copyright became complicated. Inventions like cassettes, fax machines, scanners, VHS and other devices have made us accustomed to a world where making copies is easy. But in the digital age it’s even easier. With a cellphone and an Internet connection, for example, I can send one photo to 15 different contacts in seconds. And when 15 phones have the same photo, it’s because there are 15 copies of the original file. Do you follow? What I went to convey is that on the Internet, “send” means “make a copy”.

It’s so easy to send and receive other people’s creative work and —I dare saywhen it comes to sharing things on the Internet, we’ve all done something illegal.

On the one hand, it’s things we know are copyright infringements like watching pirated movies or downloading movies from suspicious websites. But on the other hand, there are actions that are less obvious, like sharing gifs with clips from movies, emailing PDFs of books, taking video of works of art, publishing screenshots… Even our profile picture on Facebook can be a stolen file, just because we didn’t ask the person who took the photo for their permission.

Of course, most of the time, you close your browser and nothing happens, there are no consequences. But, if under a strict interpretation of the law, we are all criminals, then maybe the problem is with the law. That’s why there are people in different countries advocating for more flexible copyright laws. With how easy it is to copy things, the laws seem out of date. In Colombia, for example, the Copyright Law is from 1982.

So, Carolina’s plan was very simple: she and her team would deal with the legal part and Diego would continue studying in San José. They would talk on the phone all the time so Diego would be informed and make decisions when necessary. He was happy to get on board with the plan.

[Diego]: Carolina was like: “Alright, let’s cut to the chase, this is what can happen, this is what we need to do. So, decide: Do you want to or not?” I mean, she was very cold, so, I think that she was what snapped me out of that stage of denial, now that I think about it.

[Laura]: Hearings for the trial started on May 30th, 2014. By then, Carolina had enlisted the help of a lawyer friend who didn’t know a lot about criminal law but who was interested in copyright. Diego only attended the first session…

[Carolina]: When it was over, he said: “It’s no use, we need people who know criminal law here because this is a criminal trial…”

[Laura]: Good intentions wouldn’t be enough, they had to get money to hire a defense attorney, and neither Diego nor Carolina and her foundation had the funds to hire one.

[Carolina]: So we got a grant from the Web Foundation, demonstrating that the issue was, well, delicate.

[Laura]: They got $2,000 from an organization that works to make the Internet accessible to everyone. That was enough money to get the defense going. However, at the time, they found something better to do with the money.

Carolina proposed to Diego…

[Carolina]: We have a chance to meet  and put an end to this without a trial.

[Laura]: They thought it was better to settle; the option lawyers always recommend. It’s such a common alternative that it even has its own saying to go along with it: A bad settlement is worth more than a good lawsuit.

It sounded perfect.

I could be a good deal for the victim. Imagine getting $2,000 for a Master’s thesis, knowing that in most cases it’s hard to make money off those documents.

For Diego it was a good opportunity to get out of a trial. That meant saving himself from spending years in a battle he wasn’t interested in fighting.

But Andrés Acosta’s lawyer…

[Carolina]: …Said no, that the damages had really been much worse. I don’t think a figure was ever even mentioned because he was asking for so much.

[Laura]: There was no other option but to take on the suit. And that was the option that would take the longest.

The next hearing wouldn’t happen for another year. The trial had all kinds of set backs: vacations, changing judges, workers strikes, changing lawyers…

At one point the best case scenario was for the trial to expire. In other words, the judge’s decision would be so delayed that the case would be closed and Diego would be acquitted. This case would expire in December, 2017. If there was no sentence by then, he was saved. And that wasn’t an unrealistic scenario because in Colombia the legal system takes years. What came next was, by definition, a period of uncertainty.

[Daniel]: Diego had to get used to living in limbo. We’ll be back after the break…

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[Guy Raz, host de TED Radio Hour]: What’s unique about the human experience? And what do we all have in common? I’m Guy Raz. Every week on TED Radio Hour we go on a journey through the big ideas and motions and discoveries that fill all of us with wonder. Find it on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

[Planet Money Host]: Planet Money tip number 17: Sometimes life is exactly like the movies.

[Astronaut]: T minus 30 seconds.

[Woman]: They said “T mininus”, they said “T minus”.

[Planet Money Host]: Planet Money, a podcast about the economy, and sometimes about rocket ships.

[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.

Before the break, we were listening to Diego’s story… He was in the middle of his second year in a Master’s in Costa Rica, but he was far from your run-of-the-mill student with ordinary concerns. His life had been marked by a criminal trial that had started against him in Colombia. And now, with a failed settlement, there came a costly and drawn-out trial.

[Diego]: I became a lot more nervous than I had been, I mean, it felt like this impassable door was closing and it was upsetting me.  I had, kind of, delusions that they were after me. I mean, I usually don’t answer the phone because I think it could be bad news…

[Daniel]: The stress of knowing that your on trial can be worse than the sentence.

[Diego]: I mean, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you know? Sometimes I would say, well, just tell me I’m guilty and then I’m done with this shit.

[Daniel]: Laura Rojas Aponte continues the story.

[Laura]: In June of 2014, Diego spoke with Carolina Botero again. She suggested:
[Diego]: “Well, uh, to continue paying for the trial, well, basically what we need is, uh, more support from international organizations —from the people— because what comes next obviously is going to take resources. It’s going to take support. And the way for us to meet those needs is to publicize the case on social media and do a campaign.”

[Laura]: In other words: In order to face what came next, Diego had to tell the world his story.

The idea was to make a communications campaign in the first person. Because it’s one thing to have Fundación Karisma say “Look, this is Diego and this is what happened”, and something very different for Diego himself to say “I’m Diego and this is what’s happening to me.”

[Laura]: He agreed.

[María Juliana Soto]: So many absurd things happen in this country that it was very likely that someone was going to decide to send Diego to jail…

[Laura]: Now let me tell you about María Juliana.

[María Juliana]: I’m María Juliana Soto, uh, I’m caleña, I was born in the south of Colombia, in Cali…

[Laura]: María Juliana works with Carolina. She’s in charge of what in their office jargon they call “access.”
[María Juliana]: Access to knowledge combines a series of rights including: the right to education, the right to culture and the right to information, for example. So all of that constitutes, uh, the right to access knowledge.

[Laura]: She was a kind of coach for Diego. Everyone in her office contributed to the case. Even me. In 2017 I worked at la Fundación Karisma; that was where I heard about this story. I saw that, even though everyone was involved, the one who poured the most hours of her time into the campaign was María Juliana.  

[María Juliana]: Well, it seemed to me that I had to do everything possible to keep that from happening. A student can’t go to prison for this nonsense.

[Laura]: Together they got to thinking of a name for the campaign and someone suggested: “Sharing isn’t a crime.” A lot of them liked it…
[María Juliana]: But there were problems with that name, like how it is… well, it is a crime. I mean, in Colombia, doing that is a crime.

[Laura]: But for María Juliana…

[María Juliana]: I was super energized, like: No, it can’t be a crime! I mean, no… We have to say that. That’s a very good name for a campaign. I mean, of course, it’s blunt. It explains the problem, we’re going with that one.

[Laura]: They stuck with “Sharing isn’t a crime.” Then they had to nail down how they were doing to tell the story. And having no money, they decided to start a blog where Diego would report on what was happening. All of the content would be published with María Juliana’s supervision.

The blog entries were written by various people from Bogotá and San José. The first one was published in July of 2014. It was titled “My Story.” After describing himself a little, Diego said:

[Diego]: In a few months my life has changed, now I’m learning about hearings, imputations, trials and lawyers. I’m worried and disconcerted. Most of all, I am disconcerted that this activity that I undertook for academic ends can be considered a crime and makes me a criminal.

[Laura]: From there, Diego started to learn what he needed to say to make his case. María Juliana was helping him.

[María Juliana]: I made like bullet points, for him, like keywords, like “Diego, this is the refrain, this is what you have to say all the time”. I would tell him: “this is a, a wedge, you have to repeat it. You always have to end with the phrase: ‘Sharing is not a crime.'”

[Laura]: And he tried to.

[Diego]: I was always worried about things sounding coherent and serving the movement. I mean, not standing there like a moron who’s getting support from a foundation and that’s it, he needs help and that’s it.

[Laura]: The first people to react to the blog were people on social media who used the hashtag #CompartirNoEsDelito [Sharing is not a crime]. There weren’t many. But that first week, Carolina wrote an op ed in an important Colombian newspaper. With that, the snowball got rolling. And the case was being talked about on different media outlets in the country…

(NEWS SOUNDBITE)

[Presenter]: A judge will decide the fate of biologist Diego Gómez, the recipient of a grant from an international organization for his excellent performance and judgement in Colombia, for sharing a document on the Internet.

[Laura]: The next hearing was months away and the campaign wasn’t stopping. The story had picked up so much steam that by August 7th, the US magazine Newsweek published an article about Diego.

[María Juliana]: I told Carolina: “I’m going to retire now. I already got Diego on Newsweek! See ya later. There’s nothing more for me to do!”

[Laura]: A week and a half later, the British newspaper The Guardian joined the list of major media outlets reporting on the case. Most of these articles tacitly highlighted the absurdity of a 4 to 8 year prison sentence for copyright infringement… And would offer this example: If Diego had been accused of a crime like human trafficking or sexual abuse… the potential sentence would be nearly the same.

[María Juliana]: People in the US and in Europe felt such indignation over Diego’s case and I was very surprised by that.

[Laura]: María Juliana was celebrating and Diego was learning to handle his new-found celebrity.

[Diego]: It was like: Damn! I mean, I’m getting a bus and I just got a call from one of the most important radio broadcasters in Colombia. So I had to get the bus driver to open the doors so I could get off and talk in peace on the street.

[Laura]: Despite the buzz in the media, the trial was progressing as they had expected: slowly…

In that time, Diego finished his Master’s, got a job in Costa Rica, met a girl and had a daughter with her. He even had enough time to discover a kind of toad that was believed to be extinct: the harlequin toad.  Since nothing was happening in the trial, María Juliana and her team made ads with famous song from community radio stations.

(Ad Soundbite/Latin American Song)

Let’s share information. The joy of sharing can’t be bought. Let’s share the information we’ve built together. Sharing isn’t a crime. You can’t buy the wind. You can’t buy the son. You can’t buy the rain. You can’t buy the heat.

[Laura]: While he waited, Diego took the opportunity to learn all about the world of contemporary copyright issues.
[Diego]: I started to realize that there was such a movement and such brutal activism at the global level. I started to get a sense of why they were supporting me and the importance of, of my case.

[Laura]: In February of 2016, with two years of preparation behind him, Diego testified before a judge for the first time. His defense consisted of affirming that:

(1) He was educating himself by sharing the thesis and well, that is very different from the kind of piracy that copyright law is supposed to punish.

(2) Sharing academic documents is common practice among scientists. Knowledge is built on the foundation of the findings of others.

And (3) Diego’s defense showed that had not received any money for uploading the salamander thesis on Scribd.

[Laura]: Reading the legal documents, there was something that caught my attention. On the list of witnesses was an “informatic forensic investigator”, someone who tried to find out how the salamander thesis got on Facebook. And among other things, he found that Andrés’ thesis was shared again, on the same Facebook group, by Laury Gutiérrez, who appears in the acknowledgements of the thesis for “editing the manuscript.” She uploaded 2 copies to the Internet. In other words, someone close to the victim had repeated the same practice that landed Diego in court. Had she asked the author for formal permission?

Something that’s interesting is that while Diego was defending himself in court, Colombia as a country was trying to make its copyright laws even stricter. This started with the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US because one of the requirements place by that largest economy in the world is that copyright infringement carry severe criminal penalties. The justification is that the US entertainment industry moves millions of dollars; movies and songs are some of the products they export to Colombia and they require strict copyright laws in order to be profitable.

Things being as they were, the arguments that Diego was laying out before the judge were lessons on copyright law for the whole country. We want to adopt the US’s criminal standards, but we aren’t using the open options. In concrete terms, the US has what’s called “Fair Use” (legitimate and reasonable use) and it allows for the partial use of protected works without permission. A very basic example: on this podcast, we use news clips. Since we are using them for journalistic purposes, in other words, educational purposes, that falls under Fair Use. It’s allowed. But in Colombia, that legal concept doesn’t exist.

In the beginning of 2017, the judge scheduled another hearing, like so many before it. Remember that this year, 2017, was important to Diego’s case because if nothing was resolved, the charges would expire and he would be acquitted. Maybe that’s why everything started moving more quickly.

[Laura]: Only Carolina and the lawyers on the case attended that session.

[Carolina]: This time we were sure there were going to be oral arguments.

[Laura]: And there were, each side gave its argument. And right after, in the most unexpected way…

[Carolina]: The judge said: “Not guilty”…

[Laura]: In that moment Carolina started typing frantically on her chat, telling Diego, María Juliana and the rest of the team the news. No one had anticipated that the judge was going to close the case.

[María Juliana]: I was at a family gathering and I seemed crazy… I was jumping up and down and no one understood why, and my mom told them: “It’s because of the thing with the biologist, the thing with the biologist.” [Laughs] And I was like: We finally did it. Finally! Finally!
[Diego]: I was happy but I’m not very emotive. I mean, I didn’t jump for joy or shout or anything… I mean obviously the trial was very hard for me, but…

[Maria Juliana]: And well, I celebrated, I sent Diego a picture of a beer, like “Ah, I’m happy. Congratulations.”

[Diego]: I got it and I was really calm like, oof! It’s finally over, it was more of a “finally” than “yoohoo! Hooray!” No, I mean, it wasn’t like I didn’t celebrate at all. I think people were happier than I was, [Laughs], I was more relieved. I don’t think it was a cause for celebration as much as a reason to say: Damn, I can rest. I mean, I can give my head a rest!

[Laura]: The plaintiff appealed, but in the matter of six months everything was resolved.  The final sentence says that Diego did break the law. He should have asked for permission. However, it also says that Diego did not intend to harm the author, nor did he make money and most importantly, the fact that they thesis was on Scribd did not diminish the author’s ability to profit from the work. Those three facts mattered more…

The people celebrating saw the sentence as a precedent. The idea is that in the future copyright law will be used for what it was intended: combating piracy. Not to take people to task for trying to educate themselves, especially when those people are students from small towns who don’t have enough money to buy subscriptions to scientific journals or specialized databases…

I left Fundación Karisma months after the sentencing. And I had this story stuck in my head. In particular, I kept thinking about one question. Now I’ll pose it to you. Why did Diego wind up in this situation? In other words, why do so many countries have copyright laws that allow a person to sue a student for sharing PDFs of academic articles.

In researching this episode I spoke with several experts whose voices don’t appear here and this is their answer, more or less. It’s not like Colombia wakes up in the morning thinking: “What are our authors going to live on? We need to protect them!” No. What our leaders care about is doing business with the rest of the word and one of the requirements that comes up is the obligation to, quote, “strengthen copyright laws.”

So, big companies lobby in Washington. And the US puts these requirements in their free trade agreements. And because of the economic power that country has, a lot of smaller countries end up agreeing to it. In fact, in April of this year, the government of Colombia presented its sixth copyright reform in a decade, but not to make it more flexible for students, libraries or museums, but rather to meet international business standards.

Meanwhile, most of us continue to break the law when it comes to sharing online, and the unlucky ones end up like Diego.

 

[Daniel]: Laura Rojas Aponte lives in Bogotá and works on digital projects where she talks about technology and culture. You can hear her on the podcast Cosas de Internet. We’ll have a link on our website.

This story was edited by Camila Segura and me. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri.  Victoria Estrada did the fact-checking.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Moseley, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Silvia Viñas and Luis Fernando Vargas. Our interns are  Lisette Arévalo and Andrea López Cruzado. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.

For more episodes and to learn more about this story, visit our webpage: radioambulante.org.

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.

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