During a few conversations that i had had with Theodore Baskaran, Baskaran stressed on the importance of us to find the date on which KeechakaVatham, the first Thamizh film was released. We know that the year is 1916, but we have no idea of the date of the film’s release. This is a tough task and can be brought out only if we have ‘access’ to primary records, possibly print magazines and news paper clippings, and hope that the ones which have survived, make a reference to this film.
R.Nataraja Mudaliar who made Keechaka Vadham, the first Silent Thamizh film in 1916.
The trouble however, is that most of the surviving records are not easy to access. Most of them are not digitized yet – either, due to lack of funds, initiative, or of extreme physical fragility. In some cases, digitized records can only be accessed physically at specific locations, or thirdly, access is being ‘denied’ or ‘allowed’ based on monetary walls, which guard the entrance to ‘access’. So, in all the above cases, neither is the power of the ‘Internet’ nor of the ‘Public Domain’, coming into play, thereby clearly denying a ‘level playing field’ for information access.
I have made use of what is available of the Indian Express Archives ( hosted on Google Newspapers/ M.V.Surender curated collection) && The Singapore News Paper Online Archives, to a large extent in both the Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar book and the Documentary film. Unfortunately, the Indian Express Archives does not go further backward than the 1930’s, and barring a few scattered records, here and there, we have no streamlined continuous material published in India, of the 1910’s and 1920’s, available in the online space.
So, in this context, a simple Google Search will inform us that the ‘Times of India’ Archives beginning from 1838 – 2001 is available online, through some licensing agencies. While a substantial portion of this time line continues to be in-copyright, a large portion of this Archive is already a part of the public domain. Unlike the Indian Express Archives, the TOI Archives can be accessed through an agency called Pro-Quest which seems to be licensing NewsPaper Archives, to a host of universities.
Sensing the potential that some primary information related to Keechaka vatham and the Silent Thamizh Cinemas may be available in this database, i contacted this organization to only return disappointed. The Snapshot of what happened is pretty much self explanatory.
My request was turned down, on the count that the database was not to be given to individuals, but only to students from Universities. That hardly counts as an excuse for ‘denying access’, but the obvious logic here is that, in most cases, individuals can never afford the 25,000$ to purchase this Database. Even the 4000$ – institutional pricing based on researcher head count is exhorbitant, in any case.
So, sadly, no individual who is interested in searching for new information around the Silent film era, or of any interesting topic in this period will have access to this data. So, any individual who even wishes to look for new information about the Silent film era, will only have to go to existing published sources, and rehash what has been written in the past , thereby hashing and rehashing what is been said already. So, people will be forced to a situation, where they will have to indulge and plaigiarise and rephrase material from a bunch of existing sources, rather than start fresh from primary records. More so, these entry costs will totally repell individuals who work to create and distribute knowledge, without any commercial interests.
The moot question here in this case is – A substantial subset of information in this database, is ‘out-of-copyright’ and clearly belongs to the public. The organization involved in the denial process is not a traditional business organization, but a News Paper, which ironically should represent the pillar of democracy, and uphold the principles of human right, over commercial business interests. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case here. ( I have sent this tweet to the newspaper’s handle as well. I hope that they respond and prove me wrong. 😀)
Like most of us, who flip through news channels and social media and forget names and events within a couple of days, I too have heard the name ‘Aaron Swartz’ once, a few years ago, when he committed suicide. At that point in time, my focal thoughts were entirely on ‘Media Piracy’. But over a period of time, one learns to understand that several of these topics, are all inter related at various levels and form complex interlockings within a larger ecosystem of ‘Access to Information’.
Today, I happened to see ‘The Internet’s own Boy‘, a documentary film based on Aaron Swartz’s life. Never did i know that he like Nostradamus, would foresee the challenges, that individuals like us, in India, who desire ‘free access to knowledge’ for research purposes.
Apart from being a face associated with RSS feeds and the social media discussion platform Reddit, Swartz was largely influential in raising a public awareness movement which was strongly instrumental in ensuring that the S.O.P.A bill was not passed in the U.S.A. While unlike the U.S.A and Europe, where people took to the streets to fight this bill, and that there was not much of an impact in India to be honest, it is obvious that the structure of the Internet would be much different for all of us, had it passed. Years later, activitists like Nikhil Pahwa, would be in the fore front leading the fight for Net Neutrality, in India, which was won by the public.
Sadly after playing such important roles in preserving the Internet’s democratic structure, Aaron Swartz took his own life. It is unfortunate that he had to commit suicide, but his spirit lives on through individuals / organizations like Internet Archive, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Creative Commons etc. So, some day, let us hope that such newspapers too like these organizations, truly recognize the spirit of the ‘Public Domain’ and the Commons, and make such ‘public domain’ information accessible to us for free, and not just for a few coins.
In the true spirit of the power of the Internet and the fairness of the Public Domain, each day, more and more public domain material gets digitized and is turning up on the Internet, for free access, to the general public. The British Library has been involved in partnering with Archival Institutions and is digitizing material and is providing them for public access through their ‘Endangered Archives‘ program. This promises a great future for all of us.
Incidentally, Aaron Swartz passed away five years ago, and that i had to see this film today, is possibbly more than a co-incidence. It is possible that it is a reminder through some subconscious karma that reminds us to truly uphold the spirit of the Internet – Open Access to Information and Knowledge. Aaron Swartz – Rest in Peace!!!