Quixotic Approaches To Circumventing Censorship, Using Books And Music

The topic of censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt. Less common are stories about how to circumvent it. The two which follow are great examples of how human ingenuity is able to find unexpected ways to tackle this problem. The first story comes from Spain, and concerns a banned book. As the Guardian reports:

Nacho Carretero’s Fariña, an expose of drug trafficking in Galicia, was published in 2015, but publication and sales were halted last month after the former mayor of O Grove in Galicia, Jose Alfredo Bea Gondar, brought legal action against Carretero and his publisher, Libros del KO. Bea Gondar is suing over details in the book about his alleged involvement in drug shipping.

To get around that ban, a new Web site has been created, Finding Fariña, which explains:

A digital tool searches and finds the 80,000 thousand words that make up “Fariña” within “Don Quijote”, the most universal classic of Spanish literature, and then extracts them, one by one, so that you can read the forbidden story.

Because what they will never be able to censor your rights as a reader. Nor words. And least of all, “Don Quijote”.

The site sifts through the classic Spanish text to find the words that are then recombined to form the forbidden book. You can click on any word in the book’s online text to find the corresponding section of Don Quijote. Since Fariña contains words that did not exist in the early 17th century, when Cervantes wrote his novel, the Web site recreates them from fragments of words that are found within the work. That’s quite important, since it means that Don Quijote can potentially be used to reconstitute any book, if necessary breaking down unusual words into fragments or even single letters. Equally, the same approach could be adopted for banned texts in other languages: all that is needed is some well-known public domain work that can be mined in the same way.

The other approach comes from Germany, but “The Uncensored Playlist,” is being used in China, Egypt, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam to circumvent censorship in those nations:

While press freedom is not available in the worlds most oppressed societies — global music streaming sites are.

Five acclaimed independent journalists from five countries suffering from strict government censorship teamed up with Musical Director Lucas Mayer to turn 10 articles that had previously been censored into 10 uncensored pop songs. These songs were then uploaded onto freely available music streaming sites. Allowing these stories to be slipped back into the countries where they had once been forbidden.

That is, censored information, written by local journalists, is set to music, and then added to playlists that are available on the main streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music. In addition, all the songs are freely available from the project’s Web site, in both the original languages and in English.

Although neither method represents a foolproof anti-circumvention technique, or a serious challenge to the authorities concerned, they do underline that however bad the censorship, there is always a way around it.

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