Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Public Domain

And so it seems that copyright is everywhere...

I woke this morning to the hosts of the TripleJ breakfast program (radio) discussing the impending launch of a new competition. The only problem was they had just discovered the song they wanted to use was still protected by copyright. It seems they were going to use a song that had been written 50 years ago until they were advised by listeners that the copyright term is in fact fifty years from the death of the artist, so they were trying to find out which artists had died in 1958 (see guestbook entries for 10/4/2008).

Never let it be said that the impact of copyright is invisible – it's not – those that don’t readily experience it simply don’t know that it is there. Those that are aware of it see the conflict it creates, everyday single day.

They were lucky in this instance that they only had to go back fifty years – fortunately in Australia the copyright term extension, negotiated as part of the USA Free Trade Agreement, was not made retrospective. Future generations are going to have to go back a lot further than this, as today’s works are now covered for 70 years plus the life of the author.

I was interested to read on Planet Creative Commons (more on Planets here) that James Boyle is due to release a new book later in the year examining this very topic:

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind ... will be published by Yale University Press in Fall of 2008 under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license... The book is about the fate of the public domain – the realm of material that is available for everyone to use without permission or fee. The book argues that we have been neglecting the vital role of the public domain in innovation, culture, science and politics and increasingly “enclosing it” by expanding the length, breadth and scope of intellectual property rights – copyright, patent and trademark – to cover material that used to be in the public domain... (Read more about the book here as well as the competition for designing the front cover.)

But while the law attempts to further restrict access to the public domain, digital technologies are making it easier to access what works are free from copyright protection. Another very interesting post to Planet Creative Commons explains how the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has become the first museum in the world to release publicly-held historical photographs. Two hundred photographs from its Tyrrell Collection are already available with more to be added shortly. These can be accessed on Flickr: The Commons which itself was only launched at the beginning of this year and is designed to provide access to photographs in public archives for which copyright protection has expired. The post to the museum's blog regarding the release explains:

Our Tyrrell Collection consists of 7903 plates from the two principal photographic studios in Sydney in the late 1800s to early 1900s. These were the Charles Kerry and the Henry King studios... These images are mainly of the Sydney area with a few from regional spots... One of the exciting things we have done with this collection is place as many of them on a map according to their longitude and latitude coordinates as we can, this is called geo-mapping. The image above is ‘Bondi Bay, Sydney’, Henry King, Sydney, Australia, c. 1880-1900. This reproduction was scanned from a glass plate negative. We are going to post Tyrrell images on this blog for the next week to celebrate and will continue to highlight them in the future.

I think this picture captures an essence of the public domain - people, together, exploring and enjoying the environment. Just as we would never stand for private control of Bondi, we should work together to prevent the private control of our culture.

Triple J Breakfast <> at 10 April 2008

Planet Creative Commons <> at 10 April 2008

Wikipedia, Aggregator (7 April 2008)
<> at 10 April 2008

Planet Creative Commons, Design cover for James Boyle’s new book — Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (7 April 2008) <> at 10 April 2008

Amazon, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle <> at 10 April 2008

Planet Creative Commons, Design a book cover, protect the public domain (7 April 2008)
<> at 10 April 2008

Planet Creative Commons, Powerhouse Museum Joins Flickr: The Commons (8 April 2008) <> at 10 April 2008

Power House Museum, Powerhouse joins The Commons on Flickr! (8 April 2008) <> at 10 April 2008

Flickr, The Commons (2008) <> at 10 April 2008

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