File:India Lawrence Liang.jpg

Lawrence Liang is an Indian legal researcher and lawyer of Chinese descent, based in the city of Bangalore, who is known for his legal campaigns on issues of public concern. He is a founder of the Alternative Law Forum, and, as of 2006, has emerged as a prominent spokesperson against concepts like "intellectual property".

Liang's key areas of interest are law, technology and culture, the politics of copyright and he has been working closely with Sarai, New Delhi on a joint research project Intellectual Property and the Knowledge/Culture Commons. Liang is also described as a "keen follower of the open source movement in software", Lawrence Liang has been working on ways of translating the open source ideas into the cultural domain. Segments of an interview with Liang commenting extensively on copyright and culture are featured in Steal This Film (Two).


Liang has said: "In recent years copyright has moved away from being an esoteric and technical legal subject to one that affects musicians, designers, artists, students, authors, ordinary consumers, and more generally any one involved in any way in cultural production."

Work Edit

Alternative Law ForumEdit

In an interview, Liang described the Alternative Law Forum thus: "(The) Alternative Law Forum provides legal support for people marginalized on the basis of class, race, caste, gender, disability or sexuality. We provide services for people who are often have no access to them. Our main work is to conduct research on issues of globalization, urban studies, gender, as well as intellectual property and public domain."

In the above interview, Liang has also pointed to a "division of labour" within the Alternative Law Forum, under which he works on the grey economy, "trying to promote an understanding of its legality in a nuanced manner".

The Alternative Law Forum, he says, also does some policy work, "for example with regard to an amendment to the (Indian) copyright act that basically tries to follow the DMCA (US Digital Millennium Copyright Act) model."

It has critiqued and influenced the debate on changes in the Indian Copyright Act. " We were trying to oppose that, showing how such a law would be harmful for creative innovation. Right now we are also supporting a campaign in pharmaceutical policies. But our focus is not so much on policy advocacy, because you cannot really defend the grey economy and be on policy bodies. With regard to government, we try to push for the open source model, arguing that public money should go into public intellectual property," Liang said in the December 2004 interview to the

Law, technology, culture, copyrightEdit

Another profile on the Piet Zwart Institute describes Lawrence Liang as someone whose "key areas of interest are law, technology and culture [and] the politics of copyright". Liang has been working with Sarai, New Delhi on a joint research project Intellectual Property and the Knowledge/Culture Commons.

In June 2006, Liang spoke at the Asia Commons event in Bangkok, Thailand. An blog entry said: "Lawrence Liang spoke about the ‘cultural flows’ represented by the piracy of films and music in Asia (Liang) and the need to move away from ‘knee-jerk media responses to piracy’."

Liang has said that: "If you take the critical scholarship on intellectual property in India, there is an older generation that emerged in the context of biodiversity and traditional knowledge, which has a nationalist twist to it. It emerged from an older debate around western modernity versus tradition, western epistemology versus the indigenous context, etc. I would characterize that as the first generation."

Open source ideas into the cultural domainEdit

This profile also adds: "Lawrence (Liang) has been working on ways of translating the open source ideas into the cultural domain. He has written a number of articles on copyright, free software and media practices, and in collaboration with Sarai also wrote the license for OPUS, an online collaborative platform for artists and media practitioners. In 2004 he was a Research Fellow at Media Design Research, Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam."

Shoot, Share and CreateEdit

In an article titled "Shoot, Share and Create", Liang argues strongly that it makes sense for "documentary and alternative filmmakers in India (to) start licensing their works under an open content license".

Starting with a narrative of his interest in that subject, he writes: "When I was in law school, I had great aspirations of wanting to be a filmmaker, and an FTII-type (Film and TV Institute of India, a prominent school for film-making) friend told me the best place to start was to watch a lot of foreign films and documentaries. So I did that rather dutifully and spent many hours when I should have been reading corporate law, watching documentaries. My fondest memory of my placement in Mumbai with a law firm was when we took off to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and watched Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayashankar's film on the Yerawada prison in Pune."

His reasons for suggesting a rethink of licensing policies among alternative and documental film-makers in India, in this Creative Commons-licensed article, include:

  • Distribution, a major headache now: One of the biggest problems faced by documentary filmmakers in India has been the question of circulation and distribution. This is an issue which has been discussed in a number of meetings as well as on electronic mailing-lists in cyberspace.
  • If the work were available freely (again note this does not mean that you cannot charge for the documentary, but means that a person who has bought a copy may make a copy and distribute it to others), there would be far greater circulation of documentaries amongst other filmmakers, students, activists, scholars and general public.
  • Filmmakers don’t live off royalty: More important is the fact that most documentary filmmakers do not live off royalty in any case. Their films are either commissioned or they earn some money from various prizes, invitations and the like.
  • Another issue, of course, is to recognise the hundreds and thousands of influences and inspirations that have gone into our own films. We need to work beyond the assumed myths of copyright law, and develop alternative practices that recognise the multiplicity that goes into the making of a film.

Published workEdit

Liang is the author of A Guide To Open Content Licences. This is described as a guide to how we can "share culture in a world where everything has a license". This short book(let)'s introduction says: "Scientists, writers, designers, artists, musicians and others are increasingly interested in making their work available in 'the public domain'. This booklet is an overview of the ways in which this has been done and a guide to the growing area of Open Content Licenses through which people design and safeguard access to their work." This book is available for free download from the internet.


Liang was also group advisor/mentor of the 2006-07 International Policy Fellowship of the Open Society Institute.


According to a profile of Lawrence Liang on the site Alternative Law Forum website, he is a graduate from the National Law School of India who subsequently pursued his Master's degree in Warwick, England on a Chevening Scholarship.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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