As I was doing research on the character Kathryn Janeway for yesterday’s entry on Star Trek Voyager, I discovered something pretty amazing that I thought I’d point out. The idea that we should have “Public Domain” for knowledge that is older has fallen out of favor due to lobbying by corporations. Corporations are retroactively branding old pieces of knowledge and information as “new” and this will affect how we as consumers interact with knowledge and information in the future.
For instance, I was looking at Wikipedia and one of the entries on Janeway said that another actor (Genevieve Bujold) dropped out of filming and the actress that we now recognize as Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) replaced her for that role. I was intrigued so I clicked on the footnote/citation and was taken to a nytimes.com article that explained the whole Janeway actor situation. The date on the article is 1994. However, if you read and/or scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that the copyright date is 2017. Now Congress has changed the copyright law recently with the Digital Millennium Act so as to address online violations of copyright, but copyright (to the best of my knowledge) is still defined as coming into play when the work was created in a fixed form or published (available for public consumption). The copyright of the article should be 1994 which means that is when the clock starts for it to fall into the Public Domain (where anyone has a right to use it for whatever purpose), not 2017.
Now, I know that nytimes.com probably uses CSS or HTML 5 and the outer layer where the copyright notice goes is different from the layer/frame with the story, but it is telling that they leave the 1994 date for accuracy, but the change the copyright date to current year for economic reasons. And nytimes.com isn’t the first place where I noticed this trend of companies “locking down” their information. Microsoft was big into doing this when Windows was the dominate Operating System in the 90s and 2000s. Their splash screens showed copyright dates of 19xx-20xx, implying that their technology was perpetual so don’t bother trying to decompile their technology because all of it (even the older tech) would always be theirs in perpetuity.
This is important because the Public Domain is important. Disney grew to be the behemoth that it was through fairy tales that were in the Public Domain. However, now NOBODY can even begin to reference Disney’s work without a lawsuit. Imagine the irony. Sure, you can do Snow White or the Little Mermaid, but your conception of those fairy tales had better be very, very far from what Disney has done or you’re risking a lawsuit. This also hurts because the Public Domain needs to be refreshed with new ideas. Right now, only corporations like Disney and Microsoft and the like (and really popular authors a la Stephen King) have the power to command vast empires of content (which is one of the reasons why I was so set against the Dark Tower), whereas those with ideas and a strong Public Domain might be able to remix works well enough to forge their own empires (i.e., become a new Disney–taking from the Public Domain and remixing old ideas into new ideas). Perpetual Copyright is an idea whose time needs to go away if we want new ideas, new talent, and new blood to enrich our creative content.