Copyright week: using and losing the public domain

As Copyright Week continues, here's a pair of posts focusing on the importance of the public domain. First off, a guest editorial from Wikimedia's lawyers on the role of the public domain in the creation and maintenance of Wikipedia, one of the most amazing and important phenomena of the Internet age:

We must defend a vibrant public domain if we want collaborative projects like Wikipedia to continue to thrive. When material is removed from the public domain, it damages projects like Wikipedia and impacts Wikipedia readers and reusers at large. We are disappointed in the decision in Golan v. Holder, which removed content in the public domain by upholding the the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 19941. Given the impact of the URAA on Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation joined EFF in an amicus brief challenging the URAA a few years ago. When copyright is restored in a work, the public domain suffers. The immediate result is that Wikipedia is not as rich, because removing material from the public domain means that work previously available on Wikipedia may need to be removed.

Next, Techdirt's Mike Masnick reminds us that the public domain has been stolen from the public wholesale, through a series of economically and morally indefensible extensions of copyright that put that which rightly belongs to all of us into private hands:

However, the damage that our missing public domain does to culture, society, learning and knowledge is quite incredible. Two years ago, we had mentioned some research done by Professor Paul Heald, in which he noticed an incredible thing about new books available from Amazon, showing that plenty of recent new books were available, but they fade quickly… until you hit 1922 (the basic limit, before which nearly all works are in the public domain). And then there's a sudden jump in the works available.

See that big gap? All of that is lost culture thanks to our restrictive copyright laws, and the 1976 Act's ability to effectively kill off the public domain in the US. It should be seen as highly problematic that there are more books from the 1880s available for sale on Amazon than books from the 1980s.

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