Public Domain Flowchart

By JoCo August 25, 2005

For all the grumpies out there who claim it’s difficult to determine if a work is in the public domain or not, here’s a handy flowchart that makes it nice and simple: click me.

I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about…


Arlo says

I prefer this one:

JoCo says

Nice! A different take - more about the ethics of copying music, determining whether what you're doing is "piracy," "fair use," or the mysterious third category, "illegal but still kind of OK." Plenty of gray areas, and I'm not sure I agree 100% with the flow, but it maps to the real world much better. These two charts demonstrate how copyright law has become crazily disconnected from the real-world dynamic it's supposed to be regulating: the balance between fairly compensating artists and allowing culture to flow freely.

Arlo says

Unfortunately, I have to deal with copyright issues in the workplace all the time (at a University media center). We get our fair share of students (even faculty, sometimes) that want us to make illegal duplications of videos, software, and music. It’s interesting. If pressed, every one of them will admit that what they’re asking for is illegal, but they still try to rationalize why it’s okay for us to make copies for them. (Yes, we can try to work with them based on fair use guidelines or the exceptions laid out in the TEACH Act, but more often than not, we send ‘em packin’ with a “no written permission, no copies” line.)

I think that the “ethics vs. law” issue of copyright is going to come to a head soon – probably when someone sued by the RIAA for illegal copying actually wins with the simple “everyone else is doing it” argument.

I’d be willing to bet that there’s a legal precedent for ethical situations like this already out there somewhere. Can’t think of a GREAT analogy, but something along the lines of… a speeding ticket being thrown out when the driver is able to demonstrate that every other car on the road was also speeding. There seems to be a reasonable expectation in our society that we shouldn’t be prosecuted for something that the general public engages in regularly and openly.

Music piracy is getting to be that way. That link I referred you to early is rather tongue-in-cheek, but plenty of people are already shoring up their own morals with some of the thoughts illustrated in it.

JoCo says

Yes, and as tongue-in-cheek as it is, it still makes a lot of sense. That's what's so crazy. Lessig talks about this a little: when the law is so out of step with common behavior, you create a situation that erodes respect for the law (think prohibition). Millions of people are now used to breaking the law every day - we're a nation of felons and we don't care, because we wants our music.

Joy says

*head explodes*

Now for something completely different: XI'AN, China - The handlers of a smoking chimpanzee in a zoo in northwest China are trying to get her to kick the habit.

The 26-year-old female chimpanzee has been smoking for 15 years. Her mate died recently, which caused her to smoke even more.

Jenny says

I know a lot of collage artists, and that flow chart is *perfect* for the kind of stuff they do, though-- not so much with music, but with paper "ephemera." Although, granted, some of the requirements may be a little difficult to determine on an antique holiday card or a baby food ad- or something weird like that.

I think the speeding ticket analogy is a good one though-- here in RI, there is an even better clause-- the "Good Driver Clause." If you have a perfect driving record for 3 years, they will throw out one speeding ticket because you have been a "good driver" for 3 years. What kind of morality is that? I know people who can tell you exactly how long it is until their 3 years is up-- so they can start being a little more careless again on the roads because they will be considered "good drivers" and have that "get out of jail free" card.

Andrew says

The hard part about winning the ethics vs. law debate is that a lot of people think it's the same thing. In a country where people worship the all-mighty dollar, you'd be considered an "enemy of democracy" because file sharing is an extenstion of "communism."

Arlo says

You know what? Having thought about it the speeding-ticket thing, I realize that there is a much better analogy closer to (my) home.

I, like many people I’m sure, have struggled with the morality of pirating music. Pre-iTMS, it was just too easy to go out there and get the music you want while you’re still thinking about it. Except for an initial burst when Napster was a novelty, morality usually won and I either paid for my music or went without.

But there’s a lot more pirate-able content out there. Software, computer games, and bandwidth-consuming movies. For some reason, upon which I cannot quite put a finger, stealing something from one of those three categories seems “more bad” to me. I don’t know why that is.

Nevertheless, there’s an exception: TV shows. I download an awful lot of them and it’s ALMOST conscience-free. Why? Because I pay for cable TV (and even if I didn’t, much of what I record is broadcast over the air for free!) Because I have, for years, recorded television shows with a VCR and, more recently, a home-built Tivo (“HTPC,” actually. My horn = Toot-toot.)

Do I have a legal right to do this? No, of course not. Not even when later I pay for the individual seasons on DVD. But do I feel I have an ethical right to do so? Yeah, I do.

Thomas says

While I would agree that gratuitous copying is wrong, and certainly making a profit off those copies is un-ethical, there is a thought I had reading over most of this...

How many people have misplaced cd's, cassettes, and even records, 33's, 45's and even 78's in moves. A box gets misplaced, and you have suddenly lost a chunk of your collection, and *poof* there goes your *RIGHT* to have a/or/the copy(ies). Most songs I myself have downloaded, keyword *most*, I did in fact own at one time, and simply didn't feel like paying the recording industry to re-own an official copy.

This goes much the same for software, or movies.

As for the cable TV thing, or broadcast - over - air signals, be careful, next thing we know they will add a warning (much like this show contains scenes of a graphic and .... nature...) stating your rights to the single viewing. LOL . If I can think it, you can be sure someone with the power to make it happen, has thought of it too..

Arlo says

Your example of the lost boxes of vinyl records is a good one. Who (besides the RIAA) wouldn't agree that you have an ETHICAL right to download that which you already paid for?

To address your other point, yes, a network could tag one of their shows with a legal statement saying one does not have the right to copy it. In fact, some of them already do. Are you a football fan? Every game broadcast has that "...without expressing written consent from the NFL." line at the end of it. That certainly implies that using your VCR/TIVO is illegal.

But that's sort of my point. "Illegal" is not the same thing as "unethical" (or "immoral"). Is it "wrong" to borrow your friend's copy of the playoff game that you missed because you were working overtime?

I believe that the "...but everyone else is doing it!" arguement will, someday, have enough merit to change the laws on the books.

JoCo says

I've also heard that some Tivo shows are tagged to destroy themselves after a certain amount of time, so Arlo's future is even closer than we think. The Sony thing certainly seems to have brought this to more people's attention, so hopefully the conventional wisdom about what it means to "own" a piece of digital content will shift. There are so many shades of gray, it's hard to come up with absolute rules, but I think most reasonable people will agree that the law is currently way out of step with the ethics.

Thomas says

Speaking to my previous post, I recently signed up for satelite with a PVR...

I had the occassion to see a show on the History channel on the tail end of one of my 'recordings' come up.

You have permission to use this program for educational purposes only and your copy must be destroyed by December 31, 2008

As the intro to Babylon 5 put it..

"And so it begins"

roger says

I am from Canada, and many of the posts above show how brainwashed Americans are. Of course, for a country that would see the welfare systems of Sweden or Canada as socialist, that is hardly surprising.
Morality of music sharing?!
Why dont you speak of the morality of the top 1% of Americans having an unethical portion of the country"s wealth? And that includes many of the top honchos from the music and movie industry?
Steal as much as you can from them
It is a moral duty!
You know what is illegal?
That children have to starve because of a stupid capitalist system that glorifies greed!

Raj says

Roger from Canada,

Don't be brainwashed by the media manipulations of corporations.

( 'Corporate' stranglehold on this country is the reality - sort of corporate fascism. Slowly but surely expanding to the world at large through "globalization" - it is not a democracy in America, not any more.)

Averge american (with decent amount of common sense) actually agrees with you. Some who don't are either corporate cronies or plain dumb f**ks who have been brain washed through 'fear' campaigns.

Average american is in fact a loving decent compassionate human being - desperately trying to find a way to take the money out of politics. The average americans still are the best chance for humanity.