Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Public Domain is the rule, copyright protection is the exception

Speaking at the open government mini-conference within last week, I found myself saying out loud "copyright will be gone in fifty years, and the current ACTA discussions are the final desparate actions of a dying regime". While it is a view that I have held for some time, the articulation in public carries with it a responsibility to provide some rationale for my opinion - so here goes.

There will be a single Information Economy in the 21st century - the very premise of this blog. In this new economy the supply chain for content will be destroyed and recreated, and attempts to prevent this happening will be seen from the future as minor interruptions on the inevitable journey (rather like the attempts by port companies and dockside labour to stop the shipping container, which revolutionised the distribution industry).

Colonisation of language is a clear sign that a regime is threatened - desparate times require that words gain new meanings. Piracy (on the high seas) is dangerous, violent, organised crime - using the same word for downloading a document, movie or song word is like using the same word for murder and for not wearing a seat belt. If you want an activity that deserves the label "piracy", what about banking?

Glyn Moody gave a great keynote speech at - it should be on the core curriculum for every student of economics 101. He pointed me to the Public Domain Manifesto, from which the title of this blog is taken. I am not able to do his ideas justice here - wait for the video to be published; one of his points was that anti-sharing does not scale - it is either win-lose (for the market), or lose-lose (for the tragedy of the commons). And he highlighted the work of Elinor Ostrom, who received the Nobel Prize for economics for her work on ownership of common property.

It is a universal truth that more good comes from sharing ideas and data than from protecting them, although our whole economic system is based on the opposite - we have taken the concepts of ownership rights over physical property, and applied them to intellectual property, with disastrous results.

By 2030, all content will be available:

In Any Language
Anywhere in the World
At Any Time
At Zero Cost

So, there will be no money to be made from the content itself.

But what about us?

(or more importantly, the people that make money from our work,
and the work of others like us)

I don't know the answer. There are developing ideas - the best I have come across so far are:

"When copies are free, you need to sell things that can not be copied"
"How do authors and publishers get paid in a "Free" World"
"It was never about owning content. It was always about listening to music."
"Content is a service business"
"The new media have disappeared. They are just media now"


  1. Welcome to the Dark Side, young padawan ;-)

  2. Excellent piece, Laurence. Bookmarked for posterity and future reference.

    Can I say, too, I'm terribly flattered to be in your blogroll. I always find it a tad odd to be considered worthy of being read regularly.

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