The Commons

copyright, fair use, public domain, open access

Cultural rights and privileges are often discussed in therms of "intellectual property" focusing on ownership and the ability to lock culture down, legally and technically. For this topic, we want to approach intellectual property from perspective of our shared resources, and how we can protect and contribute to them.

The original purpose of copyright was to carve out a limited period of exclusive use before a work reverted back to its expected state -- a freely shared resource. But since modern copyright protection is automatic and copyright terms have been repeatedly extended, it's become ever more rare for copyrighted works to fall into the public domain. Things are so geared towards ownership, that even creators who want to add work to the public domain have to assign specialized licenses to ensure it can be freely used. And while copyright is automatically bestowed, the limited Fair Use exception to copyright is not a proactive right -- it's a defense that can only be used in court after getting sued.

Several organizations have tried to create alternative frameworks that encourage and assist creators in adding to the commons such as Creative Commons, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Internet Archive. But it's telling how much effort it takes to give culture away, how adding to our cultural commons can feel confrontational to the idea that everything should be owned.

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