STEPHEN DOWNES: So welcome to week two of your course and the 10% of your students who remain. No, I'm kidding. I'm sure it's a lot higher than that. But George and Dave, again, here we go with more on open learning and open content.
Today's topic is copyright, the public domain, and the commons. These are issues that we all have our own perspectives on. I'm going to take them one at a time. Copyright, the public domain, and the commons. I think they are three separate things.
Copyright, as you know, is today something that is automatically assigned to an artifact on creation. It wasn't always that way. It used to be that you had to register for a copyright, basically putting in a claim, a declaration that you were the creator of some original content that was worthy of being protected.
This had the effect of making most content by default not copyright. You know, our conversations with each other, for example. Things that we came up with in common, in the community. Images that we shared with each other. You know, popular culture.
But now, anything that gets created in our society, right from the beginning of its creation, is owned. And it's shaped, I think in a negative way. The underlying presumption and values of our society, the value that everything is owned. And this leads us to the idea of the public domain, which is sort of the opposite.
It's the idea that some things are unowned. Well, what's unowned? There are some things that just can't be owned. At least we're told. Like ideas, maybe mathematical equations or things like that. I'd like to think that software or algorithms can't be owned. But that's a subject of discussion, of course.
Another kind of thing that can't be owned is something that's really old. At least so we're told, right? Depending on where you live, copyright on something might expire 75 years after the death of the author or 95 years after the death of the author.
Although, if we look at this from a historical perspective, that term is going to be extended and extended as long as Mickey Mouse proves to be a profitable commodity for Disney.
So how is it then that anything comes to be public domain? How do we treat that? What do we do with it? That's the nature of the commons. When we talk about the commons, we're brought back to this idea of a resource held in common, hence the name.
You know, a meadow where people could send their cows to eat and drink water out of the common brook or whatever. These commons were enclosed, much like the creation of copyright laws that automatically copyright content when it's created. But that's a different thing.
But the word the commons also brings up this expression, the quote unquote tragedy of the commons. This idea that if we hold a resource in common, somebody will overuse it. But I'm more concerned about a different kind of abuse of the commons. Because I don't think we have a shortage of content or creative ideas or anything like that.
In fact, we have the opposite. We have a surplus. We have trouble finding the good ones. The big problem is even where there is a commons, what happens is that it becomes enclosed. Just like the original commons, only this time with ideas. The classic example is the universe-- or not the universe.
The museum that has a 500-year-old painting but won't allow anyone to take photographs, only allows images to be purchased through the gift shop. And because these images are new, those become copyrighted. So you sort of wonder, how did this happen? This thing that is 500 years old has become enclosed.
The same sort of thing happens to content and the same sort of thing happens to ideas. So when we talk copyright, we're talking not just rights. We're talking about the removal of rights as well. And that's where I get really concerned. So that's my five minutes. Have a good week, guys.