Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

An Amazing Story: Traveling to Planet ‘Public Domain’

Amazing Stories, October 1948

This is the cover of the October 1948 issue of Amazing Stories, which some neglector of intellectual property has prematurely let fall into the public domain. Project Gutenberg has a bunch of amazing artwork and history like this that you might find with a search of [science fiction covers].

I love the teaser for the featured story, The Brain: “A Giant Calculating Machine Decides To Rule The world!” A calculating machine! And it has decided to rule the world!

Project Gutenberg is one of my favorite sites on the internet. Their more-than-five year mission: “To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” Free electronic books. Free as in free beer and freedom.

I think they mostly draw from the public domain, which means most of their stuff is from the 1920s or earlier, so I was surprised to see these publications from the 1940s and 1950s. But each of them is accompanied by the note, “Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.”

Wonderful! (Amazing!)

Although I bet this rankles some people. The public domain isn’t very popular with a certain crowd. I can imagine them being offended by this idea that stuff should become “free.” (That it must be free.) These cultural nitwits probably see this as an egregious oversight by the copyright owners. They don’t get that our current copyright system is wrecking the commons. They’re fools if they don’t see how they benefit from “free culture” for everything they do.

It makes me sad that copyright has become effectively forever. So much stuff could be entering the public domain every year even with the previous too-long maximum term of 56 years. Take a look at Duke University’s depressing summary of what would have become available this year, but now we likely won’t see freed in our lifetimes.

(More specifically, the summary is from Duke Law School’s “Center for the Study of the Public Domain.” They put one together every year and publish it as a special New Year’s Day bummer.)

But at least there is Project Gutenberg and other rocket ships, helping us to occasionally travel to that amazing planet, ‘Public Domain,’ where we can see and use and share our common culture, even as it recedes fast into the past.

And many of us are committed to sharing our own present day work as much as possible, and allowing it to be shared in turn. I generally use the Creative Commons ShareAlike license instead of dedicating my work to the public domain, because I want to promote that idea — that our culture is a commons, and we should share it freely. You can use my work, but to the extent that I have “power” to tell you what you can do with it, I only ask that you share the work under the same terms if you decide to use it.

We share a common culture. It’s our culture, and little pieces of it shouldn’t be “owned” by anyone. (I’m speaking of the pieces that exist as bits and bytes, of course. The copyable parts.)

I suppose this might seem like science fiction to many, but science fiction has a way of predicting how things will go with giant calculating machines and other weird concepts. It will be the future soon enough. We’ll figure out better ways to deal with all this “stuff.” For now, we can opt in easily enough. Please, copy and share my words!

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