Frequently Stupid Questions: Public Domain Edition




Because public domain doesn't engender a lot of sympathy, I have decided to compile some answers to a lot of doubts people often have. I don't know if people actually feel like this, or if it's industry shills going around, but I think it's high time I addressed them.

I mean we're four years away from 2019. Copyrights have been extended for 40 years. Let's talk about this without emotionalisms.

Do you think you have a right to other people's rightful properties?

I don't think so, I know so. But so do YOU!

"Entitled" is a term that is often used to describe those  that want shorter copyright. After all, why should we have access to something we didn't create?

 But the thing is, we DO have a right. The American Constitution, not me, says that copyright exists for a limited time. Limited does not factor in if the guy made money in his lifetime, or if he doesn't want his works turned into a proto punk furry porn opera or if the guys made money from his work afterward aren't his kin. Limited means it should end at some point.

But Big Entertainment doesn't think it should end at "some point", therefore they got congress to unconstitutionally stretch the duration of works.  Look, here's some graphics explaining it.
Valis Yuko, Felix the Cat, Daredevil from Leaves Gleason,  Zombie Mickey Mouse and Batman
I thought of showing the ref getting his payola far too late.
But what if an author doesn't make any money in the first x amount of years?

The idea here is basically we're supposed to to feel empathy for the poor struggling author. "Don't you want authors to get payed" is supposed to be followed by "yes, goddamn it, and the only way to make sure is to extend copyright 200 years more, woohoo!"

But here's the thing: this art/creation/invention thing is NEVER gonna be a sure thing. For every Batman that makes billions in comics, movies, cartoons, videogames and halloween costumes, there's thousands of Moongirls, whose owners just kind of forget, to ever bring out.

For this works(the majority), being wrapped up in red tape  for almost 100 years or more is a lose lose situation.  The work just sits there  unused, it doesn't  make anybody any money, but nobody can use it, unless the author released the work themselves.






Intellectual property is just as much property  as physical property, and a work  going to public domain is like the government stealing your house from you. What you own can't be taken away, right?

Intellectual property is not physical property, at least not like a house. It's more like...air.

Air is something that, except for  scuba divers and birthday balloons, is available enough that there is little need to hoard it. On the surface of the planet there is enough oxygen for us humans as well as cockroaches and giraffes and dung beetles. Only a truly spiteful god would insist that air should belong only to the plants that produce oxygen for 90 years so they can charge for it as they will. Most plants don't live that long.

But we want there to be more plants, because we just can't get enough of that wonderful Oxygen. So we give plants a break: we won't eat all their fruits, and rip out all their flowers, and chew on all their roots for a  time, so we can have more plants.

As we have more plants, we can start eating the older plant's fruits. We can pick their flowers and chew their roots. They have fulfilled  their purpose.

Well copyright is just that. We want more artists creating, inventors inventing, philosophers philosophizing and song writers twerking, so we say "for a time, we will subdue our urge and, indeed, our RIGHT to take something as intangible as the works of a mind, and duplicate it, remake it, remix it, retell it, to give you creators a break, so that ALL of us can eventually  see the benefits. We just want the air. That's why we held off."

The differences between a house and a song should be obvious. A house that you no longer have rights to cannot be inhabited freely by you. You can no longer do in the house as you see fit. But obviously, it has a limited amount of  people it can fit.

A song you have no rights to is a song anyone can sing, play, be reproduced by anyone. That includes you. It doesn't fit any normal definition of stealing.

Also, If you truly believed Public domain works are a form of theft, ethically you'd need to not participate in any of them. Hands up if you've ever said "I'm not watching if Bram Stoker's heirs aren't making money." "I'd be stealing to watch Les Miserables!" "I can't  watch Pride and Prejudice, the original author didn't authorize."

What a mighty fine thing, to rebuke the thief while spending  his loot! If you don't consider enjoying the spoils of the public domain tree stealing, then don't treat if falling into pd as theft.



Why can't you come up with your own stuff, you lazy assholes?

This is a fairly common one. After all, original works are highly valued, while derivative works are the devil's clogged, overflowing toilet.

Okay, first of all, originality isn't just in making brand new characters and stories. I thought the Avengers was pretty original, even though every one of it's characters is older than me.
Statistically, you hadn't been born when this happened.

So when characters are copyrighted we beg Marvel and DC to make them into movies and TV shows and games. We swallow up adaptations of A Song of Fire and Ice, The Walking Dead and many more. We get excited for the third remake of the adaptation of a comic from the 80's, and a new version of a toy commercial from our youths, in movie form.

But when somebody says it'd be nice if they went public domain eventually, the same people turn around and ask everyone else if can't make something new.



So let's not do that. Let's not say only lazy people want to work off of Tolkien's books, then rush off to pay for a LOTR MMORPG. Let's not say "just  make a NEW Superhero" only to bemoan how Wonder Woman isn't getting a proper movie, or her costume sucks, or is a Thin Israeli instead of a Muscly Greek( or a Thick Turk? I'm not sure what Amazons actually were). That's the result of "WB can make with Wonder Woman as it see fit."

Obviously there is financial value in owning a recognizable character, because otherwise there wouldn't be talks of remaking Highlander and Short  Circuit. But here's my beef: the handful of companies that  own your favorite shit have nothing to fear from Johnny Fanfiction and Suzie Kickstarter. They own tv channels, Radio Stations, Game Develpment houses. Copyright is supposed to keep you from giving up the creative world because everyone is copying you as soon as your work is done. Are you really gonna tell me Best Geek Ever's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a serious concern for Viacom when they have a whole  arm of channels and all I have is a fuckin' blog that we have to award them "only game in town" status FOREVER, too?

But what if they turn my(or my favorite) work into porn?

This could be fit under the wider banner of "what if they turn an author's work into something they hate?"  Like when WB did Alan Moore all wrong, or like when Hitchcock was locked out the editing room. Something like that  but now that it's public domain, it's somehow badder.


Or like when Alan Moore turned public domain characters into porn, My head hurts.

But I guess we hate porn now, huh? Ok fine. What would happen if you make a well known work, it becomes public domain, and you  get to see your work become porni-sized?

I'll answer the question with a question: what work currently in the public domain is more known for the porn version than the real? Which anything that has a porn version the porn version is more known than the real?

None. Porn is fairly forgettable and underground.  Axel Braun's superhero porn parodies aren't getting  on SuperheroHype's news page, that's for sure.

If you're a fan of a work and don't want there to be porns of it, bad news, kimosabe. If it's big enough, there's probably porn of it. From E.T. to  to the Room. From Mickey  to Dangermouse. From Robocop to The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. Porn, bitch. Porn, motherfucker. That is our current world, where long copyrights reign, and  we charge kids who download mp3s thousands in fines. The world where we travel halfway across the world to arrest Kim Dotcom.
It's besides the point that your drawings of Jason fucking Freddy aren't competing with any official ones.
You, see, for the companies that own these works, "the dignity of the work" and "the artists original intentions and vision" are not the matters that keep them up at night.


And finally the answer would be, get over it. American copyright laws aren't  there to protect you from hurt feelings. Why talk such big game about freedom of speech  and so on, if we're gonna wimp out as soon as other people express themselves in ways we find objectionable?


It'll just lead to everyone making Batman works and nobody doing nothing else, you know?

The thinking, here is that a work being superpopular  and public domain would wind creating a great super-saturation of said work's derivatives. I use Batman as an  example because he's pretty popular and at 75 years, frankly should have lapsed years ago. But you can substitute him for Mickey, Superman, Harry Potter or the Ninja Turtles.

First of all, that's kinda the point. While copyright exists on a work, it removes competition from the originator. Like this.
No, really, that's pretty much it.


But we all know competition is the spice of quality, and if we had everyone be able to work on the same work...

Square Enix, WWE  And ME being able to work on Batman? SIgn me the fuck in!
Asylum WOULD Present Batman, like ALL  the time.
...the market would determine which is best. The market probably can't handle INFINITE Batman, thought, and I'm sure eventually it'd subside.

 How bad could it get? Well, zombies are a good example. They went public domain decades ago. While since there's hardly been a LACK of zombie happy works, there also wasn't a year where we only had zombie movies, games, and cartoons and songs.

And what would WB do in the face of such competition? Well, coming up with new stuff seems like  a solid plan. After having worked on Batman for so many years, they should have a reasonable advantage by 1995, and the new competition should force them to up their game.

And further, works further enriching the public domain would provide greater and greater possibilities. You guys are all excited for Batman v Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron. In a world of reasonable copyright, both could have been a single movie, and be released in 2005.

In  a world of reasonable copyright, we could totally have  a Wonder Woman movie written by Gail Simone and Directed by Lauren Faust. And Capcom can continue to use Spider-Man in fighting games, even if Marvel would rather make it's own fighting games.

Sure, we might see some uninspired shit based on these works. But having Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies is a small price to pay for playing Resident Evil.

Oh, my childhood!


You just want free/cheaper stuff, you cheap bastards!

Maybe. I can't talk for everyone, but who doesn't like free shit? I wished I had millions  of dollars to buy pop culture icons wholesale , but until then I'm left with in the dishonorable position of making new stuff... or waiting until stuff falls into the public domain so I can take a stab at it. I've already done it and plan to, in the future, do it again. So maybe.

But why is that greedy, though? It's not like I want Batman all for myself. How come wanting works to be widely available in libraries and online, legitimately for anyone is greed, but fucking hording copyrighted works for 100 years is ok?

And this is about more than me wanting pop culture. Books on nature, technology, philosophy and history are being kept from being looked at, while American education languishes. These works could be made available to our young underprivileged that need it.

There are works withering away, that nobody can save from disappearing forever because they're copyrighted. Are we really gonna stand here and say those are acceptable losses, and that making money off of the long dead takes priority over keeping the long dead's words and art alive for future generations?

It's not a debate about whether   the public domain should exist at all, but you'd be forgiven for believing it so, as the current length and the last two extensions have blasted the public domain into basically not including anything from the 19th century.

What IS under debate is...

How long should Copyright be?

This is one that's been going on for literally hundreds of years(but not too many hundreds. 300 at most). Amongst people that do think over 75 is too long, there isn't a consensus. I've seen some say 30, 20, 15. Some even shoot for single digits or say that there should be no copyrights at all.


Personally, I feel the old 56 maximum  duration was fine, and I'd go for that. But instead of having to re-register every 23 years, you have to reregister  every 10 or so, with an accompanying fee.

Why? Well, if you really want the US Government to spend the people's tax dollars on going after the Megauploads and Napsters and Shareazas of life, you have to pay SOMETHING. What, do you think copyrights just protect themselves?

Also, it would prevent media from just becoming a game of "who can buy more." It would force companies to consider if they really want to own that IP, instead of forcing them to own the IP.


But what if an artist makes something something and it doesn't become profitable in that amount of time?

Ok, are there any examples like that? Author gives up on work, reaps rewards 50 years later? Is that a thing that happens that often, that the whole law must  be geared toward that?

Because if we're  gonna make the law based on what actually happens, then most works make most of their profit within a 5 year margin. and the most sensible copyright durations would be 14 years.

In either case, copyright is supposed to protect you enough that you keep creating, not maintain your shitty ass half a century spanning business model. What, if the creator can't create without getting blown, are we suppose to get them a girl, too?
It wasn't supposed to be Shakes. It just happened.

Why so much whining about stuff that never belonged to you?

Here's my beef with long copyright: If it was JUST that it's 95 years, and that we don't get stuff our own grandfathers enjoyed, I'd be okay. I'm not particularly interested in doing  my own Mickey Mouse shit.

But when I realised that they had gamed the system to actively deny us of any work lapsing, I snapped.

I Infringe yet again!
"Also, I suggest staying away from the tobaco."

It's like we were supposed to receive an inheritance, but then the bank  earning interests on the money decided to delay the reading of the will for 40 years. If you won't call it robbing you of the money, you can probably call it things like "unethical", "fucking underhanded", "extremely greedy", "unjust". And we're supposed to just sit here like stupid idiots and say "well, that's the law, and the bank is big and we're little"

Not so. An I'm certainly not just gonna wait until they do it again!

I was not born before the 76 extension. There was nothing I could do.  I was a boy during the Sonny Bono act of 98. I didn't even know what copyright was. There was nothing I could do. But if I can do something now, I will. I won't let my children go through the same thing.


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