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Lawrence Lessig and public domain

I just finished Free Culture. Lessig's definitely got a convincing argument. The problem isn't copyright per se, but the fact that our free uses are not clearly defined and the language of copyright law was written for a non-digital world. The way lawyers are using antiquated terminology to foist more and more DRM and restrictions onto paying customers is criminal.

What I didn't agree with is Lessig's assertion that long periods of copyright will inherently harm culture or creativity. So let me play the devils advocate: Why should songs or written works pass into the public domain at all? Just so Barnes and Noble can make pure profit off the sale of paperback classics?

What is so special about public domain works that couldn't be handled by the ebb and flow of the free market without the creator giving up his or her ownership? There is less demand for an old book so it must be sold for less money which would amount to pretty much the same thing we have now... cheaper books. Same with older recordings. They regularly get sold for next to nothing even though they are still under copyright And if a movie or commercial makes an old song hot again why shouldn't the artists profit? It's still their creation after all and somebody will profit so why should the artist be cut out? In spite of the issues with copyright system abuse I see no reason why the author or his or her estate should lose ownership of those works.

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To your last point

Copyright law was always a compromise between the advantages to the public of easily sharing information and the importance of ensuring creativity is subidised. I'd say the reason public domain exists is to hand the information back to the public so people can reprint and share as much of it as they like and benefit from the information. Long after the author has already been rewarded.

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But public domain is a relatively recent concept.

And, according to Lessig, the system was created as a political response towards unpopular and powerful London publishers who controlled the availability and price of books when books were valuable and scarce commodities. We are in a very different situation today.

And none of this answers the question of why public domain works are essential to our cultural development. Things like drug patents I get. But I yet to see a compelling argument as to why music, film, fiction, poetry, etc must pass into public domain.

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They're part of our cultural inhertance!

Don't you think it would be a shame for classic works of years past to be restricted by licensing requirements years after they've had their spotlight? It costs money to publish old works, to remaster and rerelease in the case of music. I see it often in the type of music I listen to. Film music. It's often a shame when old works from the 50s and 30s are locked up in large corporations vaults. When small indie labels are often even willing to release things at cost if the music is of great artistic worth.

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Factor the licensing costs into the price

Supply and demand here -- you want access to things not in great demand but don't want to pay the price to get them. Let the indies license whatever they want for publishing, and add in the fees to the final cost of the product.

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Which is pointless

And benefits no one yet harms art and culture.

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That makes no sense. Harms culture? How? Unless you're saying "harms" means you don't get something free or for very little cost.

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This still does not validate the existence of public domain.

It?s merely using public domain as a tool to solve a copyright problem that could be solved in ways that would not strip creators? ownership of their work. Lessig addresses this issue specifically. The opt-in system we currently have means there is rarely any record of copyright ownership because it just happens as soon as a thing is created. He argues that the legal wrangling associated with locating an orphaned work?s owner(s) could be vastly streamlined by going back to the registration system for copyrights. If something has real value, surely people could be bothered to log in to a centralized database and register it.

You have to spend money to make money. Any business person knows that. Arguing that companies have some sort of inalienable right to free content they can re-release for virtually pure profit content is absurd. There are too many other changes we could make to our current system of copyright that would make works more available yet would not strip ownership rights? going back to copyright registration, clearly defining ?fair use? , etc.

And just because something is a part of our ?cultural inheritance? does not mean we get to own it. Buildings and works of art are part of our cultural inheritance too yet they are still privately owned. And private ownership has not hindered philanthropy and museum industry or public libraries. Again, the free market often handles the cultural needs of the public just fine. There is still no reason have yet seen to believe that the lack of public domain would harm arts or culture.

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The only reason creators are granted ownership of their works to encourage them to benefit society by adding to it's cultural inheritance. That is the purpose of copyright law, if you read the history of it you will find that. Years after the work has gone through a commercial cycle and there is little money to be made, there is little advantage to society of granting creators control over distribution, and you're only left with the harmful affects of the restrictions.
It does harm culture and everyone to have restrictions on distribution on art. Art and knowledge are the most valuable and long lasting creations of a society. Copyright law is meant to strike a balance between the concerns of encouraging artistic creation against the concern of these creations being seen and utilised by those whom can benefit from them.
Actually, most often it's the creator who is the most harmed. Licensing rights of the publisher or recording studio, making it difficult for the public and fans to gain access to the works if they are not being republished. Where if the copyright law had a much shorter expiry date this would not be an issue.

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I share your point of view

I share your point of view

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