Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Out of the blue…

The debates on the francophone wikpedian community tend to be a bit autarcic. For the past two weeks a lot of energy was spent on heating arguments about the local arbitration committee elections. Because of this particuliar agenda the trans-wikipedian issue on the Image Filter was largely overlooked. It's only thanks to a brief remark of Anthere and a recent post of Darkoneko that I get acquainted with its later ramifications.

An idiomatic French expression well renders what I felt when I discovered the Image Filter Referendum : comme un cheveu sur la soupe. It means litterally like a hair in the soup, the nearer english equivalent being out of the blue. So far, I have hardly seen much complains about the use of so-called controversial material. There has been in march an attempt of controversy concerning the inclusion of a work by Pierre Louÿs with some pedophile innuendos (in fact more than innuendos) in Wikisource. But, it has been quickly dismissed — the case for inclusion being clearly supported by most contributors.

All in all, I did not really see the need to put up a referendum about such a tiny issue.

I began voting, and the more I read the questions, the less I understood the purpose of this poll. As I pointed it out in a sooner French post, it was not a real referendum, merely a consultation. The decision was taken a priori. The wikipedian communities' advice concerned solely the concrete realisation of the Image Filter, not his preconditional acceptation.

After the publications of the tied-up results (a shy 5.8 out of 10 finding the Image filter to be an important matter). I quickly withdraw the whole business — my thoughts were elsewhere. It came back unexpectedly, comme un cheveu sur la soupe a few days ago. Last Wednesday, a section on the French Village Pump mentioned a strange conservative-bias post by The Examiner (according to the acute remark of one of my commentators, its author appears to be a kind of anglo-saxon Alithia). This mention was received with a great deal of mockery : « I'm so glad to annoy the American Puritan Right with my little contributions » (bzh) / « What a fun » (Joe la truite). Gradually, the discussion drifted on the Image Filter thing. A very well-esteemed editor, Alchemica, threatened : « If this function is applied, it will end my association with the project ».

What could account for the distinctive francophone wikipédia approach (or rather non-approach) on this matter ? It is not so easy to answer. We may of course adress the general feeling that francophone cultures are more permissive on sexual matters. It is not a mere cliché. It has some objective ground. For instance there have never been any « moral code » on French cinema. French counterparts of Fuck, Ass, and Shit flourished as soon as the thirties. Thanks to the decentralized structure of francophone cinematographic production a « Textual filter » similar to Hays Code, never occurred. Nowadays the French equivalent of MPAA stands much more laxist : nudity in picture is not a problem per se as long as it is not sexualized. By this standard a significant part of -12 American films are U-graded in France. For the little I know, the same phenomena seems to apply to Québec and the Suisse romande.

Besides, the political debates over the Internet in France focuses much more on economical than moral issues. There is some legislation about pornographic content, but nothing that can be compared to the aborted Zugangserschwerungsgesetz. On the other hand, the Hadopi laws and organisation creates an unprecedented control on artistic diffusion. The recent WikiLovesMonument operation sheds a new light on the offensive French copyright policy : there is no Freedom of panorama. Therefore, every photo that features the work of an alived or dead-less-than-70-years-ago architect has to be supressed or subsequently modified. Consequently, the president of Wikimedia France, Remi Mathis, launched lately in Le Monde a vibrant call in favor of the establishment of a Freedom of panorama.

In brief, I would sum up my position in one bullet phrase : the Image Filter controverse is very, very, VERY secondary. We are losing our time whenever real important things might go off our trail : the liberalisation/reinforcement of the copyright laws, the popularisation of encyclopedical writing, the emergence of Wikipedia in emergent countries… It sounds truly out of the blue.

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