My latest Locus Magazine column, "Proprietary Interest," talks about the way that our instinctive ownership claims over the stuff we find and post to the Internet do more harm than good. When we claim that public domain images, interesting links, or other net-fodder are "ours," we invite a muddle in which others make even more compelling ownership claims. For example, if the old public-domain Lysol ad
you scan is "yours," then why shouldn't it be Lysol's
?. This is a world in which we spend all our time arguing about whose interest is most legitimate, instead of sharing, discussing, criticizing and enjoying the world around us.
Any ethical claim to ownership over a scan of a public domain work should be treated with utmost suspicion, not least because of all the people with stronger claims than the scanner! To be consistent with the ethical principle that one should never use another's work without permission (regardless of the law or the public domain), every scanner would have a duty to ask, at the very least, the corporations whose products are advertised in these old chestnuts (the very best of them are for brands that persist to today, since these vividly illustrate the way that our world has changed - for example, see the very frank Lysol douche ad). For if scanning a work confers an ownership interest, then surely paying for the ad's production offers an even more compelling claim!
And the publishers of the magazines and the newspapers - to scan is one thing, but what about the firm that paid to physically print the edition that we make the scan from? And then there are the copywriters and illustrators and their heirs - if scanning an ad confers a proprietary interest, then surely creating the ad should give rise to an even greater claim?
We do acknowledge these claims, at least a little. A good archivist notes the source. A good critic notes the creator. But that is the extent of the claim's legitimacy. If we afford descendants and publishers and printers and commissioners their own little pocket of customary right-of-refusal over their works, we would eliminate the ability to keep these works alive in our culture. For these owed courtesies multiply geometrically - think of the challenge of getting all of Dickens' or Twains' far-flung heirs to grant permission to do anything with their ancestors' works. What a lopsided world it would be if ten seconds' scanner work with the public domain demanded 100 hours' correspondence and permission-begging to be ''polite!''
Liam Williams was given money by the BBC to explain the success and culture of YouTube vloggers. A search for the next megastar vlogger finds an unlikely victor in struggling comedian, Liam, who must undertake a series of challenges in order to win a £10,000 prize. Along the way, several successful YouTubers give him help […]
Most of history exists for us only in black and white. As a kid, we had a black and white TV because it was all we could afford. I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz every year in the 1960s and had no idea it was a color film.At least that exists in color […]
Most YouTube videos have at least a few views: the uploader making sure it works and applying basic edits. But zero views? That’s a special class of film: automated, forgotten, mistaken, baffling, beautiful. Astronaut will show them to you. [via MeFi] Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above […]
Bamboo has lots of uses beyond just being panda food. Things like bikes, roads, scaffolding, and musical instruments are made from the fast-growing grass. But unless you are participating in a tropical-themed LARP, you probably wouldn’t want a shirt made from bamboo stalks. So why do bamboo bed sheets make any sense? Because yarn extracted from […]
If you want to work in tech, but don’t have any desire to code web apps to help businesses sell things to other business, you might want to consider a career in cybersecurity. Judging from the apparent complete infiltration of Russian hackers in American cyberspace, it seems fair to speculate that there’s a major shortage of […]
All moms are different. But all moms like getting flowers on Mother’s Day, and that’s a fact (not, however a fact we can document in any fashion.) Instead of getting chewed out for forgetting to call her on the second Sunday of May, you can take care of it ahead of time with Teleflora’s flower […]