First Take on the Public Domain Manifesto

Communia published its Public Domain Manifesto. The manifesto identifies the public domain concept with respect to historical development and more urgently, its relevance to culture today.

I think it makes an important statement, in terms of offering a level, common understanding that could be used widely across society, government, and business. Early in the manifesto, it says the public domain

“. . . is the basis of our self-understanding as expressed by our shared knowledge and culture. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created. The Public Domain acts as a protective mechanism that ensures that this raw material is available at its cost of reproduction – close to zero – and that all members of society can build upon it. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of our societies.”

I think this is a particularly well-put point. I’d hoped to express a similar idea in my response to the recent Canadian copyright consultation (and other writings). The manifesto proposes principles and guidelines to foster the well-being of our public domain for the 21st century.

Many of its recommendations make sense to establish as a common global basis. Having such a basis would foster an understandable and common societal/cultural norm in the face of special interests that don’t always operate from a larger, more long-term perspective.

It recommends (I’ll paraphrase, but these are spelled out with more precision and detail in the manifesto itself)

  • Reducing the term of copyright protection
  • Changes to the scope of copyright protection take into account the effects on the Public Domain
  • Material in the Public Domain in its country of origin, is in the Public Domain in all other countries
  • Punishing false or misleading attempts to misappropriate Public Domain material
  • Prohibiting other rights from reconstituting exclusivity over Public Domain material. Ensure a practical and effective path to make orphan and non-comercially available works available for re-use by society
  • Make it the role of cultural heritage institutions to label and preserve Public Domain works
  • Get rid of legal obstacles preventing the voluntary sharing of works
  • Enabling personal non-commercial uses of protected works and looking into alternate forms of remuneration for authors/artists.

I see these as a welcome prescription for the cancers spreading through various governments’ approaches to copyright, particularly in the age of digital reproduceability,  Internet distribution, and an imbalance of corporate influence.

Setting these recommendations as a baseline would provide a common understanding from which to open up new, modern business models. We desperately need to affirm something like this manifesto to keep our culture vibrant, and our creative arts and sciences bubbling with inspiration and discovery.

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