A Peasants’ Revolt

Apanish village revolts against copyright parasites.

As a follow-on from my post on Google Books, a surreal example of copyright maximalism from Spain. Via reporter Álvaro Corcuera in El Pais; the article was translated for the IHT insert yesterday, which they put on the Web without an archive (why?).

The Spanish performing rights collective, the Sociedad General de Autores (SGAE), is dunning the Cordobese village of Fuente Obejuna (population 3,000) for €12,000 euros in unpaid fees for performances of a play written by Lope de Vega in 1610. The villagers put it on every year, as the centrepiece of their enterprising mini-festival. The specious argument is that these are adaptations, not stagings, which the producer denies. The claim includes this year’s production by a man who isn’t a member of the SGAE and says that he’s happy to cede any rights he may have to the town council.

pueblo_cordobes_Fuente_Obejuna.jpg

(Photo F. J. Vargas, El País)

The really piquant angle is that the subject of Fuenteovejuna is a peasants’ revolt against a tyrannical landlord, the Comendador. They kill him and King Ferdinand – after torturing the leaders – lets them get away with it. The villagers are not backing down. “Next year the Comendador will be Ramoncín” (a rock singer on the SGAE board).

What we are seeing on copyright is a peasants’ revolt: disorganised and sometimes badly targeted, but expressing widespread popular anger against undeserved privilege. The maximalists should be running for cover, not engaging in futile provocations.

It’s marvellous the way classic plays still have the power to create trouble. When Declan Donnellan put on The Tempest in Bucharest in 1989, the representatives of Ceauşescu’s decaying government walked out.

!Sí, pasaran!

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web