January 1 2011 is Public Domain Day a day, as the website
"to celebrate the impressive wealth of knowledge, information and beauty that today, like every year on this day, becomes freely available to humankind. Every year on New Year's Day, in fact, due to the expiration of copyright protection terms on works produced by authors who died several decades earlier, thousands of works enter the public domain - that is, their content is no longer owned or controlled by anyone, but it rather becomes a common treasure
, available for anyone to freely use for any purpose."
I want to begin by saluting the efforts of those involved here to promote the ethical and practical use of materials that were intended
by their creators to be open to the "public" and not restricted by default legal mechanisms or overzealous corporations etc. I'd like to also caution against a quick and all-too-often uncritical acceptance of the benefits of the public domain and the ethical assumptions about works becoming "common treasure." Most of us know that there is a portion of materials in the public domain which got there by dubious means and remain as sore reminders to indigenous peoples of the affects of colonialism and the paradigm of "discovery" and "collection" that drove much of the colonial imperative. Certainly some materials (songs, images, objects, texts, etc) were meant to be shared and used responsibly by those who engaged with various indigenous communities globally. Without discounting this, there is now and continues to be an expanding set of materials and knowledge that enters the public domain by default because indigenous peoples creations are not protected by traditional intellectual property rights mechanisms (as flawed as they may be). This is no historical oversight, indigenous peoples materials were MADE this way through their categorization as "folklore" and thus part of the property of "mankind" (later humankind, thanks). International politicians, colonial pundits etc knew that by making indigenous materials into folklore they ensured their circulation and exploitation by others. Today, there are still examples of this type of exploitation along with examples of shared benefits, negotiations and repatriation.So while we take the time to celebrate that which has the potential to benefit some, let's not forget it does not automatically benefit all.