Pro-tip: Don’t Raid the Law School During Finals

Monday, May 7, 2018

From the Uruguay coda by Jorge Gemetto and Mariana Fossatti:

We end with a familiar scene. On an October morning in 2013, students arrived at the University of the Republic in Montevideo to find a major police operation underway. In collaboration with Interpol, the organized crime unit had raided fifteen copy shops in the area surrounding the law school and detained thirty-two people (El País 2013a). The timing was provocative. The law school-—the largest unit at the university with more than fourteen thousand enrolled students (Udelar 2013)—was in the middle of exams. News of the raid spread quickly. The arrests and confiscated photocopy machines were televised and the topic trended on social networks, where it met an avalanche of criticism….

Perhaps predictably, then, the academic community reacted strongly to the copy shop closures and arrests. Shortly after the raid, the Federation of University Students (FEUU) published a declaration calling for “free and democratic access” to the full corpus of human knowledge (Montevideo Portal 2013). A few days later, students held a demonstration in front of the law school to protest the closures (El Observador 2013). The Student Center at the law school, in turn, launched a petition to demand better access to course materials and reform of the copyright law, including the creation of educational exceptions and the decriminalization of nonprofit infringement. The campaign collected 10,000 signatures and resulted in the presentation of a draft reform bill to Danilo Astori, then vice president of Uruguay (El País 2013b)….

Whatever the case, the discussions between the Book Association and the students strongly suggested that the legal market, in its current form, could not readily meet educational needs. A compromise position had been possible as long as there was no active repression of the informal market. When the police began raiding copy shops at the behest of the FCU, that equilibrium was disturbed.

Soon, the various parties to the dispute turned to the state for relief. The draft bill presented by the Student Center was one of these demands. For its part, the Book Association saw an opportunity to increase public purchasing for libraries and licensing of e-books (Espectador 2013). Still other parties to the debate proposed the reinstatement of a private collecting system that could compensate authors for photocopies. This strategy had been tried in the mid-2000s via a collecting society called A.U.T.O.R. Unfortunately, A.U.T.O.R. had difficulty developing a constituency among authors, in part because of lack of transparency regarding royalties. It ceased operations in 2007, without returning any revenues to authors.

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