Monday, December 01, 2008

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind

There is an assault on the freedom of ideas these days.

The weapons on this assault are copyright laws and the murky idea of "intellectual property," Rich powerful corporations hiding behind familiar and friendly names are leading this assault. It pains me to say, this unsavory alliance cuts across political lines: Democrats and Republicans are both guilty.

A little history: "copyright" is the right of a creator of an original work to control distribution for a certain time period, after which it falls into the "public domain." The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution (1787) authorized copyright legislation:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The founding fathers set the term to be 27 years. The idea was that the author was protected during the period of the copyright against unauthorized copying so he or she could benefit from their creative efforts. After this point, the copyright lapsed, and the work was in the public domain, where it could benefit society as a whole. Without the protection of copyright it could be freely reproduced, reused, and/or improved upon.

That original term of 27 years has been steadily increasing, until now it is in excess of 110 years.

James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain has written a new book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.

Boyle explains the concept of the public domain, and how encroaching copyright law is effectively making large parts of our culture and scientific thought off-limits, hamstringing both creativity and scientific innovation. Things like gene-sequences, business practices, and software algorithms are now "protected."

As befits a work of this nature, it is available for purchase as a printed work and as a freely available digital download.

Other must reads: Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, also available as printed work and as freely available digital download.

1 comment:

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I think you've referenced Lessig in half of your recent comments and posts.
I've downloaded it. Will print tomorrow and read. Thanks for the reference.

On a slightly related note, a commenter recently signed on and stated that yet another company has copywrited/copyrighted/copywrighted the color "magenta".

I think I'll soon take domain over the color "White", for all things and all purposes.