Where There's No Such Thing As An Illegal Download

Call it the Internet's 'Neutral Territory' - Switzerland is one of the few places in the world where Internet users can take whatever they want from the Web, regardless of the source. But creators of content are fighting back.

Anti-ACTA protest in Zurich in February (floheinstein)
Anti-ACTA protest in Zurich in February (floheinstein)
Lukas Meyer-Marsilius

ZURICH – Swiss rapper Bligg was recently quoted in Tages Anzeiger admonishing kids that "it's very important not to download music illegally from the Internet, otherwise it's going to be increasingly difficult for many artists to earn a living from their music."

But the problem of finding an appropriate way to pay artists for downloads of their work on the Internet isn't just a music business conundrum. It's a major question wherever copyrights are concerned.

The subject is being fiercely debated in neighboring Germany, where the press has been dissecting it on an almost daily basis of late. People in Switzerland are also trying to come up with solutions, though compared to in Germany, the conversation here is not only less fraught, but also more low-profile – much to the relief of those working on mapping out solutions. Ideas being aired range from criminalizing downloading to entirely new models such as a "cultural flat rate" that could be charged to all Internet accounts.

The problem has faced the music industry the longest. Because many people download music from illegal sources and pay nothing for it, industry earnings have taken a hit. In Switzerland – unlike practically everywhere else – it is not against the law to download music, although making copyright-protected content available is punishable. That's why the term "illegal download" has no relevance in Switzerland, but "downloads from illegal sources' does.

Intellectual property owners say they're also taking a hit from platforms like Google and YouTube, which make a lot of money from content but pay little or nothing to providers. "We view Google/YouTube as clients who need a license to use music," says Martin Wüthrich of SUISA, the Cooperative Society of Music Authors and Publishers in Switzerland. Wüthrich sees the imbalance between Google profits and whatever copyright holders are earning as too vast.

The problem also concerns filmmakers and the authors of e-books, since films and books are also increasingly being downloaded and shared. Newspaper publishers have also started to notice a substantial decrease in control over their material. Representatives of all these sectors have joined together in an "Alliance Against Internet Piracy" that is urging the government to come up with a strategy that both fights and prevents the phenomenon.

Musicians band together

Swiss politicians have not been entirely absent from the discussion, although two years ago the Federal Council ultimately decided against revising Swiss laws on the issue . A number of Swiss pop musicians, including Bligg, DJ Bobo, Yello and Züri West, responded to the Council's reluctance by forming an interest group. Together they addressed an open letter to Bern.

The letter itself was moderate, but an official statement that appeared later on the website musikschaffende.ch took a distinctly sharper tone, calling Switzerland "the copyright Guantánamo of Europe." Downloading should be declared illegal, the statement says, and guidelines created for a functioning market. A further demand is that Google be made to pay for music it makes available.

IFPI Schweiz, the umbrella organization of music labels in Switzerland, is asking the government to take another look at copyright laws. "Unlike the way it was when the laws were revised last time, today every kid in the country knows whether a download comes from a legal or an illegal source," says the group's CEO, Lorenz Haas. "Individual users now have to be made more aware of their responsibilities."

Swiss copyright law was revised a few years ago after a long consultation period. According to SUISA's Wüthrich, the law has enough teeth to defend the interests of copyright holders on the Internet, but is limited because of problems in how it's applied. "It is unclear just how much liability providers have, so it's difficult to actually move against illegal providers," he says.

Green Member of Parliament Balthasar Glättli has been very active on the issue. He is against repressive measures, and says the role of politics should be to find acceptable compromises. "We have to find a balance among the players and their interests," he says. "On the one hand, creators need remuneration. On the other hand, implementing restrictive copyright laws could lead to intrusive monitoring of Internet use on the part of the government."

Glättli has officially suggested that the Federal Council consider other measures, such as the cultural flat rate concept, to compensate copyright holders. Within the music industry itself, however, the idea of a flat rate solution doesn't have a lot of takers. "A cultural flat rate would amount to putting music under complete state control, turn it into a branch of the economy," says IFPI's Haas.

What's ultimately needed, according to Haas, is a mentality shift. "We really have to figure out if this mindset of getting things for free is sustainable. In any case, it's a good thing the whole subject is finally on the table, after having been ignored for so long."

Read the original article in German

Photo - floheinstein

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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