The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, August 24, 2007

Does Singapore value copyright?

Intellectual property and its particular example, copyright, have made news recently, in Singapore. At stake, is the whole idea of ownership of a created work - and the rewards that go with having created it.

As you may know, copyright sometimes gets a rough time, in parts of Asia. China is famous for its businessmen who ignore copyright and intellectual property laws and just copy, or take, intellectual property without authorization or payment. Yet, there is another kind of copyright violation that its perpetrators may not even consider to be in the same arena: the illegal internet download.

Downloading material off the internet is so prevalent and so common the world over, that most young people give it no thought at all: indeed, the typical youngster seems to think it is their right to download whatever they please, whenever they please. This attitude, however, either ignores the notion of intellectual property and copyright - or is founded on an unawareness of it.

Recently, an anime (Japanese cartoon) distributor in Singapore, called Odex, has decided to stand up for its intellectual property rights and sue violators. In the past two years, they have suffered from a decline in sales of 60 to 70 %. They attribute this to a simultaneous rise in illegal downloads of their anime films, off the internet. Quite simply, they contend, young people are no longer buying their cartoons - they are stealing them off the internet. This is destroying their business model. Odex distribute such popular Japanese anime cartoons as Gundam Seed and Inuyasha, usually via VCD/DVD in retail outlets.

To be able to sue the illegal downloaders, Odex first had to find out who they were. To do this, they took the local internet service providers Singtel (government telco), Starhub and Pacific Net, to court. The first two judgements came in against the ISPs, forcing them to reveal the names of about a 1,000 downloaders each: Singtel has done so, Starhub is still mulling over an appeal. The interesting one is Pacific Net - or PacNet. The judge in that case - who was different from the other two - came down in Pacific Net's favour citing the importance of internet privacy, and blocking Odex's petition to secure the names of 1,000 illegal internet anime downloaders.

The fact that a Singapore court came down against the intellectual property owner, in a copyright violation case, is itself very interesting (and more of that later) - but what really intrigues and appals me, in equal measures is the reaction to Odex's case, in the online forums, in word of mouth - and in other forms of feedback to Odex, itself. There has been outrage all over the internet, that Odex would actually seek to protect its copyright - violators and sympathizers have been pouring vitriol against Odex in forum, after forum. There have even, reports in the Straits Times state, been DEATH THREATS against Odex.

Just reflect on that for a moment. The general feeling among young internet downloaders is that Odex, which owns the sole rights to distribute these Japanese anime cartoons in this part of the world, should not be allowed to protect its intellectual property. Indeed, the mass of internet users are angry that Odex should be doing so - to the point of issuing death threats against them. I find that really, really disturbing - and you should, too.

What exactly is Odex protecting? The right for the creator of a work to be compensated when someone else enjoys the use of it. I don't think that should be a controversial issue. If there were no rewards for creating works, in any media, exactly how many such works would be available for public distribution? Almost none at all. Without a fair financial return on the time, money and effort put into creating an artistic or other work (and all three facets are involved in most creations), then there would be no significant creative activity that wasn't entirely private. There would be no worldwide market for films, books, music, art, and the like. The entertainment world, as we know it, just would not exist. Is that a better world than the one we have? Few would think so - yet that is the world the outraged internet voices are arguing for. They are crying out for a world in which creators, producers and owners of creative works are NOT rewarded for doing so. In such a world, there would be no Japanese anime cartoons to be bought in the shops or even downloaded for "free" on the internet - for no-one would spend millions of dollars making them, when they could never recoup the money invested. The protesters against Odex are baying for a world without art, a world without culture, a world of utter boredom.

No. People should not be demanding a relaxation of copyright laws. People should not be demanding that the internet should be a free for all. People should, instead be demanding a strengthening of copyright laws. People should be demanding huge penalties for all who breach them. Why do I say this? Well, in a world in which copyright is strong and well-protected, creators feel secure in releasing their works to the public. They are rewarded well for it - and more works will follow. A world of strong copyright protection is a world with a burgeoning, vital culture - to the benefit of all, except the freeloaders who would wish to steal a work, rather than pay a reasonable sum for it.

Odex is seeking $5,000 Singapore dollars from each and every illegal downloader. They are not seeking a penalty for each individual copyright violation, as I understand it (though, really, they should). That is about $3,285 US dollars a head.

As a writer, myself, and as someone who understands the work that every creative work embodies (sometimes a lifetime's work in a single opus), I really hope Odex wins all its cases against illegal downloaders. Any case against copyright theft can only serve to strengthen copyright and protect the rights of all who create, in any way, and in any medium, anywhere.

What really worries me about this case, though, is that the Singaporean judge in the Pacific Net case did not understand this. Either he did not understand this - or did not care about it. He placed "internet privacy" above "copyright protection". That is equivalent, in the physical world, to putting the rights of shoplifters not to be identified (so that, hey, they can shoplift again, anonymously, no shop knowing who they are), above the rights of shopowners not to be stolen from. It doesn't make sense. Privacy is an important issue - but you cannot and should not use a right to privacy to hide a criminal, of any breed. A thief is a thief, whether they steal a car or a film - it is still theft. A court has no place coming down on the side of the thief, against the owner of the property that was stolen. That really doesn't make any sense.

Generally speaking, lawyers don't create anything. Therefore, perhaps, this particular lawyer does not understand the issues around creating a work - and being compensated for the use of that creative work. It is not an issue that he would feel strongly about because it is not an issue ever likely to concern him. Well, it should. The whole of human society is built on the works of intellectual property holders - be it copyrights or patents. We all, together, have a collective responsibility to ensure that intellectual property is protected and its owners properly compensated. If we do not do this, there won't be any intellectual property to protect - and then we will all suffer. In a sense, therefore, those who steal intellectual property, strike against us all - for they are striking against those on whom all the richness of society is built. We shouldn't stand for it. But first we must understand the issue. Once we understand that issue - and I hope to have done something to help, there - there should be no excuse for not protecting intellectual property with the same vigour that we protect physical property. If this issue doesn't mean much to you, put the words "my house" or "my car" in the place of Japanese anime cartoons - and see just how happy you feel about someone stealing it.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, left-handedness, College, University, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:19 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you partially. It is true that infringing copyright is wrong, but there are better approaches to curb it. Have you analyze why online downloading is so rampant? Why do you think people go for online downloading? What are the pros of online downloading?

Why haven't some businesses start capitalizing on the pros of online downloading merging them with their own distribution channels?

Other than that, if you look at the bigger picture, if online downloading for a fee ever took off, where do you think that leaves middle man like Odex with? If you as a writer is able to allow sales of your work online successfully by yourself, will you still go a publisher? (consider that there is a possibility for a digitized future)

From a business standpoint, what Odex do is basically a disaster, they are attacking their own customers base. Given that it is a known fact that majority of anime fans download, it is pretty much suicidal to alienate them. There are better ways to tackle this without bloodshed.

Look at iTunes and what Steve Jobs has spoken about online piracy.


7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. You need to lurk around more into this case study. I think ppl are outrage not because of what odex is doing in essence but how they did it.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think, firstly, that Odex is suing downloaders out of frustration that their business is evaporating. A 70% decline in business in two years is a disaster. In such a position, I think many people would reach for their lawyer as the only solution that they can see.

Yes, it would be good if businesses started using downloads as a distribution channel. Some music providers.

Many types of business might go to the wall, as you imply, in a world of fee based internet distribution - but that is the way of change and technological development. When something new comes along, the old is set aside.

You are right to propose that writers might forego publishers - except for one thing: many people like the feel of a book in their hands and that feeling is likely to endure for as long as the people presently on this earth are alive. Perhaps, in time, that attachment will change...but for now, it will not. Admittedly, though, publishing online might supplement real world publishing, too.

Odex is alienating people, yes, this is true. One consideration though is: are they right to be alienated - after all, copyright was breached and intellectual property was taken without compensation.

What better course of action could Odex have taken? I would welcome suggestions: had they done nothing...then their business would continue to die, quite quickly. I would be interested to hear what proposals you might have for improving the situation for them - and all copyright holders.

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Kind regards

Valentine Cawley

9:43 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Anonymous on "outrage"

I am not sure what actions you are referring to, that caused outrage - other than the fact of suing. Are you saying that people are happy to pay up for the copyright violation? Is it just a matter of manners/PR/delicate approach?

I would think it likely that most people are outraged because now they have to pay up for things they had regarded as free - and pay more than those things would have cost them, had they paid for them in the first place.

How might Odex have approached this so as to secure compensation without producing such an incredible reaction? I would be interested in your suggestions.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous searcher said...

Hi there,

IP is important. Business needs profits and to be honest. Like anonymous (11:40pm) said, it would be desirable that you hunt around for more information about ODEX. I will give you a few more clues: Games Mart, New Lakeside Holdings Limited and try ACRA.

It is not as simple as it seems. And enjoy what you have found out.

Thank you for your time.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of it all it really boils down to being able to adept to changes. If there are free alternatives, there is no reason why people would refuse it even though it is wrong. Being a businessman, he should have known better to fight this out in court, forcing payment from downloaders, for at the end of the day, they are also potential customers. So where does the source file comes from ? Who provided the files for free in the first place ? Piracy is everywhere, however there are those creative enough to provide somethings that pirates can't, such that their business is better then before. I have many ideas to curb this piracy other then forcing downloaders to pay, however I do not wish to post it here for odex to pirate it. Good examples are in the music industry, the case against Napster and follow by the innovation of iTunes (now it comes with Movies). I would think rather then relying on the law to take action, Odex should study the market needs and create something different, for no one... and i really mean no one can stop piracy.... (to clarify - I am NOT FOR PIRACY) ... but that the fact of life.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Anonymous at 12.57 pm

Yes, it would be wise in business to make your goods unpiratable - but that is very hard for some class of goods (a book for instance..or a CD can easily be copied).

Your argument shifts the onus of protection onto the producer of the works - or their distributor. Yet, is that entirely fair? Should an author or a publisher - of any kind of work - spend a lot of energy on inventive piracy prevention - or devote that energy to producing more inventive works? It takes energy and creativity away from the real purpose of creative production.

In the ideal world there would be NO piracy: they all would be free to pursue their business and their creative activity without fear of theft. Yet, that is not so. The world abounds with pirates.

I agree that producers should do everything they can to protect themselves - but there is something I would disagree with. I think that the courts and the law should be very careful to protect creative producers - because without their works, the world would not be what it is today. We should ensure that society doesn't allow pirates to flourish at the expense of creative producers.

So the approach should be a strong law - and a strong protection - for all types of creative work.

As for the lawsuits: yes, it does create antipathy - but Odex probably don't see what else they can do in the situation. It is their last resort for redressing the situation, I would imagine.

It is also true that someone sued by them is never going to buy from them again - and would devote a lot of energy to discouraging others not to buy. That is a huge PR problem.

This is certainly not an easy situation to resolve satisfactorily.

Good luck on your ideas for protecting creative works.

Best wishes

1:25 PM  
Anonymous searcher said...

Thank you for your time on this subject. I guess that there are things that should be left to the law.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

once upon a time, stories were handed around, and the storyteller who told them best was paid best.

whither copyright?

12:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Once upon a time, the world was filled with penniless peasants lorded over by a King who had everything: was that better, too? One might say, whither human rights?

Nowadays, performers are paid for each performance - or repeat fee, in the rest of the world, outside Singapore, when their program is shown again. In Singapore there is no repeat fee for a repeat performance - but elsewhere there is - so there is recognition of the need to pay the performer. That is good. There is also the recognition of the need to pay writers for their work - and so they are, in most parts of the world. This is better than not paying writers - for if you don't pay writers, there won't be much writing going on: everyone loses.

Kind regards

3:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Searcher

You have brought important information to my attention. However, it is difficult to verify this information. It may be, as you suggest, that there is a history of behaviour here, by Odex people that needs to be understood if we are to have a perspective on the present situation.

It is a difficult and delicate matter that skirts the issues of libel and must be approached cautiously.

Anyone may search on the terms you have given. I may address the situation myself in a post, soon.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Kind regards

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no qualms about strengthening the IP protection regime and totally support the idea that all IP creators should be duly rewarded for their efforts. Illegal downloaders ought to be punished, but whatever punishment must be fair and in accordance with the due process of the law.

However, the manner which Odex proceeding with its action is fraught with problems. Here are just some of them:

1. No legal protectable right - Under the Copyright Act, only the copyright owner or the exclusive licensee has the right to take action. Odex is neither. It's the same principle that if someone knocks your car, you can get your neighbour to sue the person as it was your car and not your neighbour's car that was knocked.

2. Writing demand letters with the implicit threat of a criminal action - This tantamounts to blackmailing and is probably illegal. If someone were to catch you taking a leak in the botanic gardens and offer to not report this to the park keeper on the condition that you pay her $30, that's blackmail.

3. Excessive demand for compensation - You can demand for what you have loss and not more. Odex spends $12 of tracking each downloader and demands $1,000 to $5,000 from the downloader. Is that a true reflection of the market value of the downloaded anime?

What Odex could have done:

1. Get the Japanese principals, who are the true copyright owner to commence the action. If they are not prepared to participate in the civil process, then they should not be entitled protection.

Someone has rightly pointed out that it is not a case of rightowner vs infringer. It is a case about doing things the right way.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment.

Public information suggests that Odex is a sub-licensee of many titles and an exclusive licensee of at least one. It also has stated in court that it has the permission and authority of the copyright owners to sue on their behalf. If this is so, then they do have the right to act, it would seem, for they would be acting on behalf of the producers of the anime.

I haven't seen the letter, so I don't know its contents - but if it is worded so as to seem to be blackmail, then no doubt that is actionable in itself. I cannot comment however, not having seen it.

As for "excessive demands"...I do believe that copyright laws all over the world allow for damages beyond the immediate loss as a punishment for the infringement. This would seem to be in line with that. I don't know the specifics of local copyright law however.

Thanks for your perspective however.

9:54 PM  

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