Embrace the public domain

Peter Saint-André published his promised essay Who’s Afraid of the Public Domain?. It’s fairly short and covers a fair amount of ground. I highly recommend it. Two of my favorite paragraphs:

Yet the public domain is nothing to fear. The works of Homer, Sophocles, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Galileo, Newton, Bach, Beethoven, and other creative giants are all in the public domain. Their works are revered, not reviled. Sure, the fact that the Fifth Symphony is in the public domain enabled Chuck Berry to write “Roll Over Beethoven”; but far from defiling Beethoven’s good name, Berry’s song indicates the level of respect that we still have for Beethoven’s works. I bet you’d love it for your works to be similarly known and respected two hundred years from now (what creative individual wouldn’t?).

Because of that corporate influence over the copyright laws (at least in America), you face a choice: accept that your works will never pass into the public domain, or willingly place them there. You can place your works into the public domain immediately (as I have done) or specify in your will that your works shall pass into the public domain upon your death. I find it simpler to place my works in the public domain as soon as I publish them, but only you can decide the best course of action for your own works.

I would add that if you don’t make an effort to free your works, they will disappear, and your creative legacy with them.

One item of fear, uncertainty and doubt spread about the public domain (that would have been out of scope for Saint-André’s essay to address) is that it may not be possible legally to affirmatively place a work into the public domain (see Wikipedia:Granting work into the public domain for some discussion), especially outside the U.S. jurisdiction.

I believe wikipedians attempt to work around this with statements like the one currently in Template:Userpd (emphasis added):

I, the author, hereby agree to waive all claim of copyright (economic and moral) in all content contributed by me, the user, and immediately place any and all contributions by me into the public domain; I grant anyone the right to use my work for any purpose, without any conditions, to be changed or destroyed in any manner whatsoever without any attribution or notice to the creator.

Or one of many specialized “public domain or release all rights legally possible” templates like this one:

This image really is in the Public domain as its author has released it into the public domain. If this is not possible, the author grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

I have no idea what a court would make of these, but presumably someone has or will inform the Wikipedia community if they are bogus.

If you aren’t ready to fully embrace the public domain, Creative Commons offers several gradations of partial measures (as well as a form to help you dedicate work to the public domain).

Check out all of Saint-André’s posts about the public domain and digg his essay.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Mike :-)
    I didn’t find your m@il, so I write you here :

    Thanxx for the nice word and the donation,
    today it’s my birthday, that’s fun !

    We have a new album, but I think we’re not gonna
    put it on jamendo…
    It’s called “Balloon_fight”, you can check it
    on our blog.

    thanx again :-)

  2. […] copyright extension cripples the public domain, but there are relatively unexplored options for increasing the effective size of the public domain […]

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