Argentine philosophy prof faces prison time for posting unofficial translations of out of print Derrida texts

Horacio Potel, an Argentine philosophy professor at Universidad Nacional de Lanús,, faces criminal charges -- and possible jail time -- for posting unofficial translations of seminal Jacques Derrida texts to his site where his students could see them. Most of these texts were out of print, or had never been translated. Now a publisher is bringing a few of these books into Argentina, and they're trying to get this prof imprisoned for supporting Derrida while he was unavailable.

El turno de los profesores, prisión por subir obras protegidas a Internet (Thanks, Carolina!)


  1. They should be paying him for doing advance promotion of their product, rather than imprisoning him – companies thinking backwards yet again.

  2. they’re trying to get this prof imprisoned for supporting Derrida…

    Copyfight politics aside, this seems like a perfectly reasonable stance to me. Now if this were about Michel Foulcault… I mean at least he was a snappy dresser.

  3. I think this is a foolish move on behalf of the publisher. Most tenured philosophy professors CHOOSE what texts their students will use (and buy) each semester, and then they place the bulk orders to the book stores.

    It seems foolish to imprison someone for this, because it is like shooting yourself in the foot because you are attacking your number 1 salesperson.

    Not to mention couldn’t a cease & desist suffice? And why are publishers bent out of shape about philosophy books? As the world gets less educated people just use them for toilet paper anyways so it isn’t like there is a huge profit in it. I guess I could understand if it was the latest Stephen King “novel”(ty)

  4. Could it simply be a ploy on the part of the publisher to get publicity for their upcoming releases? (as in “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”)

  5. I have a question on behalf of those of us who are Spanish-challenged (I’m sure I could read through it with enough effort, but my Spanish knowledge is generally only suited to conversing with other English monolinguals who learned Spanish in school):

    Is there anyway to donate money to support this professor’s legal defense? Does the EFF have a presence (or a sister organization) in Argentina?
    Also, if anyone finds an English language news story on this item (or a better than babel-fish translation), I hope they’ll post the link.

  6. Is there any way to send money to support the prosecution?

    Mere imprisonment for circulating Derrida is clemency.

  7. Well, on the bright side, IIRC a time in prison has proved itself to be a invaluable experience for more than a few philosophers.
    In an unjust society, to find a just man in prison is not a surprise, eh?

  8. A quick read of the “Ley 11723” (Argentinian intelectual property law) seems to indicate prison time is 1 month to 1 year when the illegal distribution/reproduction/edition/whatever is not done for a profit (Article 73).

    Also, the rights owner can have the whole thing dismissed just by requesting it, so feel free to pester them, because in this case it would be useful.

  9. Great–an obscure academic introduces the blissfully unaware to obscurantisme terroriste, and get slammed by copyterrorists.

  10. In my experience the book market is different in Argentina and in the US.
    A majority of books are not available in local stores and those which are, are very costly in comparison with the income of students. Dollar-wise they may be cheaper than in US, but not so if you consider income.
    Until recently a common way for students to acquire books is to have them xeroxed for about us $5-10 in a copy shop. Copy shop employees had no concerns whatsoever about copyright issues. I guess nowadays electronic versions may be the norm.

  11. It appears that his site is hosted by in Argentina. Which makes me wonder what would happen if he switched to hosting somewhere else entirely.

  12. Dear Boing Boing,

    My name is Andrés Hax and I wrote the story of the Potel case in Clarín (Argentina’s largest daily paper) on the prompting of my editor Fernando García.

    The link to the article is:

    As always happens with daily print journalism you never have enough space to cover the story from all angles.

    This is the deal as far as I could find out in a single day’s rushed reporting. Potel set up three web sites towards the end of the 90’s posting texts of Nietzche, Derrida and Hieddeger on web sites.

    Of the three Derrida was still under copyright. The French Publishing house “Minuit Edition” caught wind of the site and asked the French embassy here in Buenos Aires to intervene via the “Camara del Libro Argentino” (which would be the author’s guild, or something of the sort). They, in turn, began to prosecute Potel for infrindgment of copyright. He voluntarily shut down his site as a consequence.

    There are many issues unresolved here. Carlos de Santos, the president of the “Camera” insists that he is only protecting authors’ rights. Many of the Derrida books posted by Potel on his web site are available in Buenos Aires in bookstores…

    Anyhow. If anyone up north wants to follow up this matter more in depth I can put them in touch with Potel or the involved parties. I also have a copy of the legal complaint filed by the “Camara del libro”.

    I must say that included in the possible penalty is jail time for Potel, but it seems very unlikely that it will come to that.


    Andres Hax

  13. Thank you, Mr. Hax, for offering your cogent clarification. And damn you for bleeding some of the high drama out of this story. :-)

    Here’s hoping for sweet reason to prevail in Professor Potel’s case.

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