Geert Lovink on Fri, 3 Apr 2009 16:40:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> CopySouth Report on Horacio Potel

From: Roberto Verzola <>

Dear friends,

Please circulate widely this story about how a philosophy professor in  
Argentina is being persecuted for making available on his Web site  
Spanish translations of Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher who died  
in 2004.

Thanks and greetings to all,

Roberto Verzola

*Argentinean professor charged criminally for promoting access to  

By the CopySouth Research Group

A philosophy professor in Argentina, Horacio Potel, is facing criminal  
charges for maintaining a website devoted to translations
of works by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His alleged crime:  
copyright infringement. Here is Professor Potel’s sad story.

“I was fascinated at the unlimited possibilities offered by the  
internet for knowledge exchange”, explains Horacio Potel, a Professor
of Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús< 
 > in Buenos Aires. In 1999, he set up a personal website to collect  
essays and other works of some well-known philosophers, starting with  
the German Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Potel’s websites  
– *Nietzsche in Spanish <>*, *Heidegger  
in Spanish <> * and *Derrida in  
Spanish <>* – eventually developed  
into growing online libraries of freely downloadable philosophical  
texts. *Nietzsche in Spanish <>* alone  
has already received more than four million visitors.

One of Potel’s best known websites, focused  
on his favourite French philosopher, Algerian-born Jacques Derrida  
(1930-2004) <>, who was the  
founder of “deconstruction”. On this website Potel posted many of the  
philosopher’s works, translated into Spanish, as well as discussion  
forums, research results, biographies, images and the usual pieces of  
information typical of this type of online resource. "I wanted to  
share my love for philosophy with other people. The idea was  
disseminating the texts and giving them some sort of arrangement"  
declares Potel.

To Potel, what he was doing was what professors have done for  
centuries: helping students to get access to knowledge. “It is not
possible to find the same comprehensive collection of works that was  
available at Derrida’s and Heidegger’s websites either in libraries or  
in bookstores in Argentina”, says Potel. In fact, only two bookstores  
in Argentina’s largest city, Buenos Aires, carry some books by Derrida  
and many of his works are seldom available to readers. Potel spent  
decades visiting libraries and bookstores to collect the material he  
posted on his online library. “Many of those texts are already out of  
print”, he says. Books that are out of print cannot be purchased, but  
they are often still protected by copyright laws.

Furthermore, Potel finds the prices charged by foreign publishers,  
such as the Mexican companies Porrua <> and Cal  
y Arena <>, “prohibitive” by  
Argentinean standards. He gives as an example the price of a recently  
published booklet of a conference given by Derrida. Printed in large  
typeface, the booklet has about eighty pages, although the text would  
certainly fit in twelve. It was being sold for 162 Argentinean pesos,  
around 42 US dollars at current exchange rates. Even at that steep  
price copies were very hard to find within two weeks after they  
arrived in Argentina. Potel relates how he had to walk around Buenos  
Aires for an entire afternoon in order to find a single copy of the  

But the price of foreign books is not the only concern in this case.  
For Derrida’s works to be accessible to the Spanish-speaking
world they have to be translated. While the Spanish versions of the  
texts available on the website were not done by him, Potel made  
corrections to a few of them, since some of Derrida’s Spanish language  
books have been quite poorly translated. To make the texts easier to  
understand for readers, Potel also linked each translation to the  
original text, as well as to other works cited by Derrida.

Eventually, Potel’s popular website caught the attention of a  
publisher. A criminal case against Potel was initiated on December 31,  
2008 after a complaint was lodged by a French company, the publishing  
house Les Éditions de Minuit < 
 >. They have published only one of Derrida’s books and it was in  
French. Minuit’s complaint was passed on to the French Embassy in  
Argentina and it became the basis of the Argentina Book Chamber < 
 >’s legal action against Potel.

The Argentina Book Chamber <>boasts of its  
doubtful precedents of having been responsible for a police
raid at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Buenos  
Aires and for having managed to condemn some professors for  
encouraging the students to photocopy books and articles. “The view of  
the police entering the Puán building is remembered with astonishment  
by many members of the academic community” says a report. The next  
possible effects of the legal action against Potel are the wiretapping  
of his phone line, the interception of his email accounts and an  
incursion into his house to “determine the
actual place where the illegal act occurred”.

Potel has already removed all the content from his website, a decision  
which he regards as a tragedy. “These websites are my best work. They  
are the result of many hours of work and have been entirely funded by  
me”, he says. Those who access today find a  
warning: “This website has been taken down due to a legal action  
initiated by the Argentina Book Chamber”. Potel insists that he “never  
intended to make a profit” out of Derrida’s works. Yet he faces a  
possible criminal
sentence of one month up to six years in prison for violation of  
Argentina’s intellectual property laws, according to a February 28, 2009
by the online version of Argentina's largest newspaper,
Clarín < 

If Derrida was alive, he would probably be thanking Potel for bringing  
translations of his texts to millions of Spanish-speaking
readers, who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to read  
the works of the French philosopher. Here’s what the founder of  
deconstruction said about freedom within the university:

“And yet I maintain that the idea of this space of the academic type  
has to be symbolically protected by a kind of absolute immunity, as if  
its interior were inviolable; I believe (this is like a profession of  
faith which I address to you and submit to your judgment) that this is  
an idea that we must reaffirm, declare, and profess endlessly. [...]  
This freedom of immunity of the university and *par excellence* of its  
Humanities is something to which we must lay claim, while committing  
ourselves to it with all our might. Not only in a verbal and  
declaratory fashion, but in work, in act and in what we make happen  
with events.” (Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition” in  
*Without Alibi*, ed. & trans. by Peggy Kamuf, Stanford University  
Press, 2002, p. 210)

Those who profess to “protect” Derrida’s “intellectual property  
rights” are now persecuting a professor who is simply following
the French philosopher’s teachings and popularising them in the  
Spanish-speaking world.

The CopySouth Research Group calls on the Argentina Book Chamber < 
 > and the government of Argentina to drop these criminal charges  
immediately and to respect and protect professor Potel’s academic  
freedom in providing popular access to philosophical works. In any  
conflict between intellectual property and the right to education and  
to access knowledge, we choose education and we urge those who share  
the same concerns to spread the word widely and rapidly.

You can send letters to Les Éditions de Minuit < 
 > (7 Rue Bernard Palissy, 75006 Paris 06, France, email: 
), the Argentina Book Chamber <> (Av.  
Belgrano 1580, Piso 4, C1093AAQ Buenos Aires, Argentina, email: 
) and the Argentina Federal Council of Education < 
 > (Pizzurno 935, P.B. of. 5, C1020ACA Buenos Aires, Argentina, email:

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