The philosophy behind the public domain is simple and very powerful. To elaborate we must first look at the traditional way in which Art and Intellectual property is governed. It is controlled by one thing, and that is money. People believe that to protect ones rights and to deter theft of their work, it (the work) must be protected by making it illegal to reproduce a work without authorization by the author. Any use other than use the author, “authorizes” will result in legal action against the person or corporation who infringes, by the person or corporation who originally created the work.
The law that makes it illegal to copy or reproduce a work is called fittingly “Copyright”.
The ideology behind copyright is sound, however, like other ideologies and theories it is inherently flawed. People will find ways to misuse the law for a profit. When someone creates something they are “entitled” to and have “rights” to the benefits of that creation whether it be an invention, or and “original work” of art.
Art can be a song, poem, story, or one of many forms of visual art. The rights that come with the creation of a work are, and should be, automatic and natural. No one besides the creator of the work should be allowed to profit from or use the work in any way without “authorization” from the works author.
However this idea flies in the face of the creation process, and poses a question. Why create the work in the first place? If no one, besides the original author has any rights to the work, and no one can publish the work without permission, why create it?
Copyright law protects the author of the work and gives the creator the authority to sell the work for a profit without concern of theft of the work. The author can use the work as long as they own “all rights”. What I mean by this is that the author has the option of transferring “all rights” to whomever he or she chooses. The wonderful part about this area of law is that not only can the creator profit from the work itself, the rights to the work is fully transferable.
The author can transfer all rights or partial rights or set just about any limitations of usage they deem fit. This also poses another question.
How do you transfer rights and why?
Transferring rights to a work can get complicated and there are many ways to do it. The 3 most common are the temporary transfer, or what copyright law calls “licensing”. Here are the 3 I am referring to in order of commonality.
These 3 types of licensing are “almost” all encompassing. They cover just about any use you can think of. There are many different variations of these three licenses, and most likely unlimited variations, it would take too long to go through all of them if in fact there is a limit. The main purpose of this example is simplification. The next obvious question is.
“How long does copyright last?”
This depends on where you are in the world. Different countries have different laws governing copyright laws. The one common factor here is “rights”. The owner of the work is the one who created it, and these rights continue on even after the authors death. Copyright can last as long as 120 years from the date of creation if created by a corporation, and life plus 70 years if created by an individual. This is according to current US Copyright Law 2004.
Now, since we have given you a brief overview of US copyright law, we will explain why we think that both the Public Domain and Copyright Law are extremely important.
Copyright Law protects the original authors rights to sell their work. The Public Domain is very important in preserving culture and providing a valuable resource for all kinds of great works. It is a resource, and the language that governs this area is negative in its connotation. Typically when a work is described as being public domain, it is described as having “fallen into” the public domain. This implies a negative state, and the public domain should not be considered as a catch all for unwanted, outdated material, or worse, an archive for the dispensable.
It should however, be considered as a vast natural resource, rich in culture, and fine works of art. It’s our history, it tells us where we have been and what we have done. It reminds us who we are, and possibly even where we are going. The public domain should be viewed as a Goldmine, chock full of free cultural riches. It belongs to everyone. No person can own it.
Anyone, anywhere, at any time should have access to this great treasure. That is what the Public Domain is all about.
It is about FREEDOM…