You are an information consumer. You are an unwitting participant in a system that rewards not those who create the ideas and information that you consume, but those who distribute and control that information. You are a participant in a system that seeks to perpetuate the myth that distribution of information is difficult and costly, and that those who distribute information serve some greater ineffable purpose.
Public Domain Was Not Created
Public domain is not something that was created to fill a need. Public domain is the true nature of the existance of ideas and information. Copyright, patent law, and other intellectual property laws are built to restrict this true nature-- not the opposite.
Your Mental Block, Conditioning, and Attachment to Physical Goods
A mental block exists in the information consumer's mind: inability to reconcile the difference between the physical goods associated with distribution of information, and the information being distributed. Consumers have been conditioned to believe, through hundreds of years of economic discourse, that information and ideas have, themselves, an objective value that radically exceeds the economic value of the physical goods upon which they are distributed. Consumers have been conditioned to believe that distributors of ideas, the publishers, somehow provide a vital and necessary service in their distribution of information-- a service so vital that without it, there would be no new ideas created. Without publishers, they contend, there would be no new music, film, books, or art.
Information creators have been conditioned, through this same discourse (the pittance paid by their publishers), to believe that the act of creating an idea entitles the creator to a level of economic compensation. Artists, performers, authors, and other information creators have been conditioned to believe that their work must be sanctioned, approved, taxed, "owned", and controlled by publishers, and that they lack legitimacy in their endeavors if they do not participate in this system.
Today many are unable, as information consumers, to separate the notion of information or an idea from the physical medium within which it is communicated. To so many of us, a "book" and a "story" mean the same thing-- even though one is made without creativity, of wood fiber, and the other of ideas, dedication, creativity, and toil.
We are conditioned to believe that ideas are property and that they are equivalent to physical goods, because many ideas are distributed, ostensibly, as physical goods. We have been deluded by publishers into believing that ideas themselves have economic value, and must be protected as property from "theft" or "abuse". Intellectual property law, throughout the world, has grown radically from its simple beginnings-- always driven by the publishing industry.
Decay and Irony
Physical goods must decay and diminish-- ideas do not have to. Nonetheless, we have allowed publishers to create a mechanism by which decay can be artificially applied to our ideas through our irresponsible intellectual property law. We lock our ideas-- the most powerful product of human toil (and one of the few that has longevity beyond our own lifetimes)-- into physical forms that are left to decay and disappear: scenes captured in acetate film decomposing in underground vaults, fading stories printed on reams of acidic paper, and songs trapped in media that are unplayable and decaying.
We have made our ideas, as a people, "property" of corporations: the publishers. These corporations, as corporations must do, work from a basis of return-on-investment and providing value to their shareholders. If preservation of our decaying ideas is not economically justifiable, because no market for these ideas exists, or because the market is not significant enough, corporations will choose to allow our ideas to perish.
There is rich irony in the thought that our time, rife with technology though it is, will be, through our own devices, one of comparatively few historical memories and records. In the future, more will be known of the thousand years before than of the one hundred surrounding these we inhabit now. More works of art, science, and the contemplation that is humanity will survive from those times than from ours.
The Publisher's Fear
Publishers fear power to publish in the hands of consumers. They fear that their audience will grow to accept, utilize, and even value the ability to disseminate information that is not sanctioned, sponsored, and taxed by the publishing industry. Publishers fear that their monopoly on the dissemination of ideas-- a monopoly created out of the information consumer's desire for efficient dissemination of information-- will collapse as lower cost means of dissemination become available to the consumer.
In a worst possible case for publishers, ideas will cease to be regarded as physical items, and will instead be regarded as abstract-- and not specifically governed by economic value and principle. Mass-market publishers, and the market that they came about to service, would cease to exist. A new structure of custom and economic compensation would evolve between creators of ideas, and those who desire to share these ideas.
The Bleak Future
Do you not think that, if technology allowed, you would be assessed a charge each time you thought of a scene from a film, discussed the events of the prior evening's sporting events with a co-worker, or read a passage from a book?
Do these notions seem absurd?
Does it seem absurd that it is illegal now, under some interpretations of intellectual property law, to create a story that features characters "owned" by a third party, even if it is not created for profit?
Does it seem absurd that devices to make digital video recordings are regulated in the United States to prevent their "abuse" (the "broadcast flag"), when the acts that are considered "abuse" are legally protected uses of analog video recording equipment?
Does it seem absurd that all general-purpose computing devices have been repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, targeted by legislation in the United States that would, essentially, outlaw their very existence?
Does it seem absurd that the animated depiction of an anthropomorphic mouse is "protected" by intellectual property law and will be prevented from entering the public domain for ninety-five years after its creation? (Does it surprise you that the company that "owns" this character has used many works of fiction from the public domain as a foundation for their huge intellectual property empire, but wants to insure that none of their "original" work enters the public domain?)
Does it seem absurd that information consumers are being conditioned to think that legally protected use of copyrighted work (fair use) should be regarded as criminal behavior?
If technology was created to permit publishers to exert more draconian control over consumer compliance with intellectual property law, it can be safely assumed that publishers would seek to utilize it. Given the current apathy and lack of informed opinions that most information consumers possess today, it can be safely assumed that consumers would not protest as new laws stripped them of their Freedoms. By the time anybody notices, it's going to be far, far too late.
Publishers will seek extension of copyright indefinitely, and utilize technologies to render effectively inaccessible "their" works even after copyright has expired. Publishers have demonstrated, repeatedly, a total lack of consideration of the value of public domain (except as something that can be "reaped" to create "new" works to be sold) by lobbying for extension of copyright in the United States and Europe, and lobbying for treaties such as WIPO that would allow these extended copyrights to be enforceable even in countries where the publishers' lobby was not felt. Publishers have "tipped their hat" regarding their desires to unlawfully extend copyright indefinitely with technology in their lobbies for DMCA, SSSCA, and CBDTPA in the United States. Publishers motives are clear: the further restriction of the public domain, the taxing of all forms of human expression and distribution of ideas, and complete control of all information distribution mechanisms.
A Call To Action
History shows us that, in fact, there have been great artists, musicians, authors, and performers, even when the climate of economic compensation for these individuals was not as it is today. I do not see reform of intellectual property law as a "death of ideas"-- but a fundamental change that places the creation and dissemination of new ideas back into the hands of every person-- rather than in the hands of the few.
No-- this isn't about "free music" or "downloading MP3's". This is about stopping the systematic destruction of the legacy of ideas that span the last one hundred or more years and the foreseeable future, and ultimately controlling what will become the sum of human knowledge itself.
This isn't about abolishing copyright or intellectual property law-- it's about creating policies that work to the good of all of humanity, and preserve those ideas that are the legacy of our ancestors.
This isn't about anti-corporate attitudes, fear of globalization, or mistrust of government and politics-- it's about the Freedom and right of all people to profit from their industries while not trampling the Freedom and rights of others to do the same.
This is about understanding that intellectual property and copyright are social contracts and that it is time, in light of the "new rules" created by efficient information distribution using general purpose computers and ubiquitous computer networking, for these contracts to be renegotiated.
Read about intellectual property law. Tell your friends, family, and co-workers to read about it. Learn about first sale rights, about works for hire, and about fair use. Stop supporting the publishers and perpetuating their conditioning. Become enraged, politically active, socially aware, and motivated to constructively help fight to maintain our rights and Freedoms, before it's too late.
I do not own these words. Permission is granted to anyone to make copies of this document, in any medium. If you choose to modify this document, an attribution to me is greatly appreciated, but please clearly indicate that your derived work is not written by me! I would appreciate if you would refer others back to the original location of this document in your derived work, but I leave the decision to do so up to you.
Have a look at Losing Nemo, where the Walt Disney Company's exploitation of the public domain and lobbying to remove the freedoms of the public are discussed in detail.