Roping Off the Information Commons

Public domain information - including our shared culture of literacy and democratic dialogue, basic drug research and government information resources paid for with public tax dollars - has grown in importance now that the Internet has empowered everyone to become a creator and to readily share information with others. As a result, writes David Bollier, corporate "content aggregators" -- film studios, publishers, record labels -- have "brazenly cast a broad net of claimed ownership rights in the intangibles of our culture. Whether it is an image, a sound riff, a screen persona or an acronym, chances are that some white-shoe attorney in Los Angeles or New York will send a 'nasty-gram' letter claiming that our shared culture -- even silence -- belongs to some mega-corporation. ... One member of a self-appointed committee of copyright lawyers has boasted that they have developed restrictions on every means of transmission of thought except smell, taste and extrasensory perception." Previous generations took for granted that our shared culture was infinite, shared and self-replenishing. As Bollier warns, however, "The public domain cannot last very long if McDonald's threatens food businesses that use 'Mc' in their names and Mattel threatens legal action against art photographers who use images of Barbie dolls to comment on American beauty ideals."