Audio Visual Commission (AVC) Missing Another 'C'

الإثنين 01 تشرين الأول 2007

Posted with permission from Arabian Monkey

Audio Visual (Conditional-To-Who-You-Are) Commission

I always avoided any rapport with the AVC because I could never understand what they truly do. Within my domain, the AVC is the group who need to ‘approve’ audiovisual (AV) content for public screening. But if a screening is held through a government entity, the content is exempt from having to be OK’ed by AVC. So they are conditional regulators, depending on whom they are regulating.

So if you’re a government broadcaster or a government commission or a government center, you can pretty much screen anything you want – the only censorship imposed on you is that which you self impose. But if you’re a foreign center or a private entity and you want to screen a film for public, you get dragged thru hellish bureaucracy, your paperwork gets delayed, your reels stalled and you get treated like an imposing criminal wanting to poison society with ‘those’ films or ‘that’ content.

I must however take a moment to thank the AVC for the open environment in which the pirated AV stores are able to flourish and mushroom around town, and for a JD a pop keep me entertained with the latest movies. They are open 24/7, home deliver, return corrupt DVDs, give freebies for every stack, and are willing to source a list of titles you ask for, anytime, and will call you when the new arrive.

For the record, I would much rather watch a movie in a theater. I’ve been going to the movies weekly for as long as I can remember. In Jordan though, the only commercial theaters are in West Amman so far, and usually there is one movie to watch per week.

Anyway, so while at the Berlin Fest this past February, I participated in a Euromed AudioVisual conference, which included a panel discussion on fighting piracy. I fought back my inclination to explore the streets of Berlin and skip this panel because the title itself by virtue is an oxymoron to me.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as fighting piracy. I think we need to redefine the intellectual property landscape and re-examine the book of copyright rules and learn more about Open Source and Creative Commons and find inspiring workable new solutions to this challenge.

Halfway through the panel I started fidgeting and as the panelists delivered monolog after monolog. I finally interjected and simply asked, “how is it practical or possible for a country like Jordan to even begin fighting AV piracy as per your discussion, when we gladly license pirated stores and have legal store fronts all over town? Furthermore, our academia encourages photocopied books and pirated software and unlicensed reproductions. And having said all this, frankly I don’t have a problem with this so-called piracy because if this is the only way someone in Jordan can see a film, learn an application or read a book, well then it’s very fine actually! Our distributors are lazy and lethargic, our policies are archaic, our governments deficient in the latest developments and our audiences hungry to know, see, try!”

Needless to say that derailed the whole panel and got us all engaged in a healthier debate, where other countries shared their piracy challenges, and we started to agree that it’s us, the content makers and copyright holders who must educate ourselves on how to find and embrace newer win-win solutions, rethinking financing and distribution. I was glad I threw that question in as at least the last half of the panel discussion came closer to reality and got us into a more progressive conversation.

After the session finished, I was looking forward to continuing the talk with one or two people whose argument intrigued me.

I was startled when a very angry person in a very neat suit, tie and piercing blue eyes stuck his hand out to shake mine and in an irritated voice said in Jordanian Arabic, “I’m the one who licenses the stores you mentioned.”

So I said with an uneasy smile on my face, “Oh, cool, thank you for that.” Well, he was very angry and started hurling his defense, detaining me from getting to the coffee in the room next door.

This is what he was saying more or less: “What do you want me to do? I have to license them. They fill in the right paperwork, pay the fees, do everything that is needed. And they do get reported to the law. The National Library monitors and inspectors are sent in to check their titles and we confiscate huge amounts of pirated material. Their cases are sent to court. The judicial system is not helpful. They often let them off with a small fine and dismiss the case. They don’t understand the important work we do. They are busy worrying about other bigger legal issues. But we do report all these stores you mention, and go into their warehouses and destroy thousands of dinars worth of goods at times, but they all have ways to get around us because they are legally licensed stores.”

He finished suggesting that we meet and talk more back in Amman.

So basically it sounds like the AV(C)C is into the business of entrapment. It seems they encourage the AV pirated stores to open, pay registration and fees, rent space, purchase furnishings, display their pirated wares, and then troops are sent in to come down on them and report them to the law.

PS: When you bump into an AVC person next, ask them about their process for regulating the porn material that gets screened in some downtown run-down theaters. That’s an interesting manual I bet!