11 May 2008

In Praise of the Public Domain

I write a lot about licensing here. Indeed, licensing arguably lies at the heart of free software. But there's another important way of looking at things, which is essentially licence-less, as John Wilbanks reminds us:

It is a damn shame that we no longer think of the public domain as an option that is attractive. It’s a sign of the victory of the content holders that the free licensing movements work against that something without a license – something that is truly free, not just just free “as in” – is somehow thought to be worse. We’ve bought into their games if we allow the public domain to be defined as the BSD. The idea of the public domain has been subjected to continuous erosion thanks to both the big content companies and our own movements, to the point where we think freedom only comes in a contract.

The public domain is not contractually constructed. It just is. It cannot be made more free, only less free. And if we start a culture of licensing and enclosing the public domain (stuff that is actually already free, like the human genome) in the name of “freedom” we’re playing a dangerous game.

How true. Which means that those of us in the free software world must be careful that we don't play into the hands of those who want *everything* to be licensed.


Stormy said...


The problem is that in the US you can't just put something in the public domain. Because everything you write is automatically copywrited (by you), you automatically own all the rights to it. So you can't just remove them all - although some licenses come close.

(Note, I am NOT an attorney! :)


Glyn Moody said...
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Glyn Moody said...

Well, the Creative Commons seem to think otherwise with their Public Domain Dedication: