“Researchers in the Field:” Dr. Guy Pessach

“Researchers in the Field:” Dr. Guy Pessach


How will childhood experiences be documented in our collective memory, and why is this question related to copyright law? How is Google exploiting the free culture movement to enhance its own economic strength and market share? Dr. Guy Pessach offers some insight into the issues being examined by researchers in the fields of copyright, law and technology, and media law.


-Renana Herman-


Dr. Pessach, what projects are you working on these days?Dr. Pessach, what projects are you working on these days?
I’ll tell you about one project that I think is pretty interesting and that has attracted attention from beyond the milieu of scholars in the field of intellectual property. The project was developed in response to an academic stream that has become very powerful in recent years that argues that if we switch to an environment based on free information, without copyright law (or with a significantly reduced scope of protection), we will create a braver, more beautiful, and better world. The main argument presented by this stream is that moderating the scope and strength of copyright protection will free us from the shackles of the corporate media and from the control by commercial media corporations of the main channels used to disseminate content and information.


My project examines whether and to what extent this argument is correct. I am also researching the manipulative way that “new world” media corporations such as Google and Facebook inflate this argument – and its outcomes in the political, legislative, and judicial fields – in order to create new structures of political economics. These structures allow the corporations to secure power, market strength, and control that may even be greater than those enjoyed by the “old world” media barons, and to do so in a manner that can damage freedom of expression, cultural diversity, and creative profit. An examination of the activities of bodies such as YouTube, including an empirical study, reveals that the level of concentration, lack of diversity, and distributional gaps are actually liable to increase in a “free culture” environment. The project attempts to connect these findings with copyright law policy and to show that a moderate – but still significant – level of copyright protection (particularly one that concentrates on the creative layer) can be expected to yield a more competitive, decentralized, and diverse media environment. On a more general level, the project seeks to illustrate the way in which extreme conditions of “surplus” copyright protection or the “absence” of copyright protection can be expected to create similar failings. The project has attracted reactions. Predictably enough, the two extremes of the political arena (the extreme or the old media corporations and/or the extreme of the free culture ideology) have attacked and/or supported the findings on the basis of their own narrow interests. By the way, they have all ignored the nuances and fine distinctions identified by the project.


Another area you have been working on for some time is “digital cultural preservation.” Can you explain what that means?
Sure. An environment of digital, online information such as that which exists today differs in many ways from the situation in the past. This is true, for example, of the ways in which we manage cultural preservation processes and social memory and the ways we shape the picture of the past for the coming generations. We are no longer living in a world dominated by a handful of physical archives (such as the national library and state archives) that served as powerful gatekeepers of the “remnants of the past” and the “historical landscape” conveyed to the coming generations. The transition to a digital environment enables each of us as an individual, as well as diverse groups and communities in society, to play a meaningful role in shaping the way the past is presented to future generations. For example, think about the way that a content sharing website such as YouTube serves not only as an arena for contemporary discourse, but also as a source that future generations will rely on as they seek to study and be influenced by the landscape and history of the past. YouTube and similar platforms are full-fledged memory institutions.


My interest focuses on locating, studying, and profiling the new memory institutions of the digital age, and in attempting to study the ways these enhance and/or threaten society’s ability to realize values of freedom of expression, autonomy, and diversity within the framework of social memory processes. My conclusions are ambivalent. On the one hand, the environment of digital information permits the democratization of cultural preservation and processes of social memory. On the other, the processes of privatization found in the digital environment in this context also raise some concerns.


Naturally, this project also has a connection to the field of copyright law and intellectual property law. Unlike a physical environment, when we document material in digital media, the objects we document and use are usually the subjects of copyright protection. In other words, those who hold intellectual property rights to the documented material can potentially control the processes of cultural preservation. My interest focuses on an attempt to propose reforms and amendments to the current copyright laws, so that alongside respecting and protecting the intellectual property rights of creators, it will also be possible to maintain a diverse and democratic environment for digital social memory, rather than one that is controlled by the owners of the intellectual property.