First, I have sent my proposal for a Public Domain Foundation (see my other posts) to some institutions which may find it of interest, such as EFF and the Berkman Center (Berkley, Standford, Harvard, et al.). I still think it is the best direction to begin to challenge what is certain to be a growing threat to all public domain distribution efforts.
Second, I would offer the following personal perspective on the matter of 'public domain' and intellectual property rights, for what its worth:
Our remote ancestors did not have any notion of owning 'ideas' or their abstract products. Someone made the first flaked tool, the first fishing net, an original design for the wheel, or just a pleasing tune that was whistled, and others simply copied it to suit their own needs. That was the origin of human culture. One simply did not own copies or distributions of an original object or concept.
The benefit cut two ways. First, the culture receiving these ideas was enriched, made more resiliant and better assured that it would survive through the contributions that were thus made by its members. Second, the life of the originator was also thereby enriched and their survival, comfort and enjoyment enhanced as reward for their own contributions (remember, this was before their work was defined as the property of a few, to be traded in the marketplaces of cash, rather than ideas). That's how societies and cultures worked. That is why they worked. That is, until the economics of 'mine' and 'how one makes a living' comes along to insist that direct entitlement replace shared benefit as the tabula rosa of all social transactions.
Like it or not, that's the world we now live in. But, it is good to remember that it wasn't always so, and we've been a fairly successful species on a bases of shared ideas and offerings a whole lot longer than we've been one of owned ideas. The defense that's usually proposed for the later mode is that it is to protect and secure benifits for the inventor or creater of the artwork or idea and that they are due fair remuneration for their work. On its face, that defense is not even the practice of those who propose it. Artists, for example, are among the worst paid workers on the planet, except for a very small handful of "superstars". Its the Ayn Rand's straw man, about as bogus an argument as one can offer for their excuse to get wealthy from the work of others. They are the so-called 'commercial distributers' who time and again mask their own greed as some imaginary philanthropy to the arts and its creators.
Once, these middlemen may have had some role in producing and distributing important cultural artifacts, but in the relm of visual and textual materials, the internet has made most of their activity obsolete. They may have other roles yet to do, but distribution of textual and electronically reproducible materials is no longer required. Their main activity, now, is to claim abstract rights to materials for the purpose of making profit. Artists are catching on to this and, in time, it is doubtful if composers, writers and other artists will even consider using such middlemen to handle their materials. That doesn't mean it will be free, but it does change the notion of who owns what and for how long. Certainly, some remote relative or publishing house of some long dead artist will have little function or reason to attempt to filter the artifacts of public domain through their cash registers. Like the Berlin wall, the walls of closure and control of our common heritage must come tumbling down, sooner or later.
Still, we must keep in mind that the battles are likely to get fiercer, not more accomodating or cordial, in the foreseeable future. Those who feel most threatened by the narrowing and redefinition of their commerical perrogatives will strike back hardest with whatever legal or extra-legal tools (such as bullying with 'Cease and Desist' letters) are at hand. Money is what they know, and it is the advantage they have. Any legal or extra-legal battle they win will be modeled as some kind of "precident" as if it were written in stone that what they are, in fact, stealing belongs to them. The public commons which is glad to leave the material in the hands of its originator until they and their immediate families had passed on has, in their view, no rights at all.
But, the line which must be drawn is that those matterials, which any artists will admit are produced by standing on the shoulders of many others and many generations of others, must eventually be returned to the common storehouse of knowldege and appreciation, that others may stand on their shoulders and make their on contributions in turn. That is how culture works.
- red slider
In a world where so many have abdicated
all sense of sanity and reality, it is to the arts
that we must depend upon its safe-keeping until their return.