Thursday, March 2

steal this electronic abstraction of a text

There hasn't been a copyright notice on this page for a long time, for reasons which may be obvious to those who know me well. Lately I have realized that in a world where infringement is generally presumed for any use without a documented disclaimer, the lack of a statement is perhaps insufficient.

So now there is a notice in the footer on, which reads as follows:

All original content on p1k3, unless otherwise noted, is dedicated to the public domain and may thus be freely re-used or modified, for any purpose whatever, in perpetuity. I, Brennen Bearnes, assert only the moral right to attribution where it is both reasonable and practical.

I thought about using either a Creative Commons license or the GNU Free Documentation License, a la Wikipedia & its sister projects. I appreciate the cultural momentum that CC is building, and the viral legal hack of the CC attribution/share-alike license or the GFDL has value. Turning strong IP against itself has probably been necessary to the flourishing of the free software movement. (Advocates of less restrictive licensing will disagree with this last. My contention is not that a GPL-style viral license is necessary or desirable for every body of code, but rather that the GPL has helped enormously to create a strong and defensible ecology of free code in a hostile legal & social environment.)

Ultimately, though, I don't believe that the creative work I do is in much danger of being hijacked for purposes of which I would not approve. And unlike much useful code, the text of a poem is essentially transparent in its received form. While there is a strong rationale for ensuring by legal means that software remains open when modified by a third party, releasing my text and images into the public domain is probably a sufficient guarantee of such transparency as the form demands.

Even so, I feel some hesitation. There is vanishingly little chance that I will profit from work I release on the web, and even less that making it freely available would impact any profit, but it's still hard to shake the sense that waiving copyright is dangerous or foolish. We are taught, under this legal framework and the dominant culture of art, to assume that copyright is an inviolable moral right, inherent in the act of creation. I no longer believe these things, and I no longer equate legal structure with moral value, but the gut feeling dies hard. Still, my attitude towards so-called intellectual property (I will note in passing that I include especially patents and any ownership of genetics) is anarchistic, and has been for a while. It is well past time to put my text where my mouth is.

As Lessig points out in Free Culture, the act of releasing a creative work into the public domain was once unnecessary: The legal framework generally placed the burden on those who wished to obtain and defend a copyright, by requiring registration and an explicit notice. Under current US law, this situation is reversed. Copyright is automatic, and the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of anyone who wishes to disclaim restrictions on the use of their own creative work, and to an even greater extent on any party attempting to re-use the work of others. Additionally, the potential costs of failing to document and cover every border-case are so egregious that it is always safer to assume a legal obligation exists. Along with the public domain, the doctrine of fair-use is effectively nullified for almost all applications.

Though I used to like the "you made it, you own it" model for its apparent simplicity and its neat mapping onto the sense of ownership which any creative act inspires, right now I suspect that it has deeply problematic (unintended?) consequences. Even in a world where copyright protection is desirable. I would rather not feel obligated to make any statement at all, but it seems necessary, in a quiet way, to do something.

I used to come across a graffito about once a week, on some wall or sidewalk in Nebraska: What is left that isn't owned?

This is my answer.


Which brings me to unintended consequences. Quotations fall under fair use, and my own text is not problematic. Running a wiki, though, is interesting.

In a saner world, it wouldn't present a problem. The entire model of a wiki is more or less orthogonal to the existing legal model of content ownership. And I'm happy with that. In fact, I'd generally like to encourage it. But I suppose if I'm going to the trouble of putting boilerplate on the main page, I ought to think about the big wad of pages in p1k3::wala.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? Is there an established framework for making sure your bases are covered and everything's out there in the open, wiki-wise? (By which I mean a small page footer kind of framework, not a GFDL kind of framework.)

For that matter, does anyone particularly object to bits of text they've put up being tossed to the public domain winds?