No Rights Reserved

"The internet, in its current form, moves everything it touches toward the public domain."

Revolution is Not an AOL Keyword was published using a public domain, no rights reserved license, a category to the side of the Creative Commons licensing choices which otherwise make various copyright levels available and include attribution as a minimum requirement for use. The Creative Commons has not seen the No Rights Reserved designation adopted much, compared to the 400k or so discrete webpages which have posted their other licenses since the December 16, 2002 launch. People seem more interested in Some Rights Reserved, although there are a couple of examples like Natalie Merchant, who is recording public domain music, and Oprah Winfrey who has started a public domain book club. And then there is Sal Randolf's "Free Words" project, where her books are placed in bookstores and labeled free, but the words too are free, as they are in the public domain. Derek Slater has also written about his dilemma with public domain blog publishing.

Putting Revolution into the public domain, people linked, reprinted, commented and reposted, rewrote, surmised and objected. They even wiki-ed.

The desire to protect something, not through copyright or for profit, but simply to keep the integrity of a work intact is strong. Fundamentally, people want to connect to each other through an understanding of meaning. And yet it is nearly impossible to do perfectly as a direct, fixed conduit from creator to audience. When something is free on the Internet, the integrity of the original remains, as much as anything can be considered really original. But as it is copied and changed, linked to and sampled, there is a heightened understanding, as well as a complete loss, of any attribution, depending on the republishing. Sampling, reuse and innovation prompt questions of possession and control, issues that test the creatorís ego, the need to be known and connected to a work, to say where and how that work is used. I believe audiences understand innately riffs and reuses, and take meaning without always needing tacit clues for understanding. Interestingly, even though Revolution is available for the taking, many of the blogs and links to the work have attributed, or linked back to the bIPlog in some way. Better still, many more did not.

Text on paper, in the context of a deconstruction, can be analyzed to get at whatís implied underneath. Text embedded with links presents an explicit layer of the creatorís intentions and expression underneath, creating a linking universe across and between blogs and the web. Linking was part of the original Revolution, but not every reprint contained the links. The essence of the piece changed with each sampling, as people rearranged the meaning, posted different sections, with or without links, and with or without attribution. In fact, it appears that as it was copied without attribution, it spread further.

If you print out a copy of Gil Scott-Heronís Television and the HTML coded copy, with all the links explicitly on the page, of Revolution, you would have a hard time finding the similarity in exact expression. Though as a whole it is an elaboration, continuation, imitation, even derivative of the original. This description is all about the elements a judge would consider in a fair use analysis in case of dispute, which would consider the idea/expression dichotomy as a backdrop and the four elements of fair use analysis (which is sometimes literally done by placing the works side by side for comparison in terms of same number of words, etc.).

It has occurred to me that creators concerned with copyright could benefit from the process of making something they could profit from, but instead put into the public domain, placed digitally on the Internet to go wherever it will, in whatever format with whatever parts audiences and republishers find compelling as they respond to it. Dropping barriers that keep the audience from deciding for themselves how to understand and connect to content would seem to be the ultimate in encouraging innovation and reuse in the public domain (pdf).

Mary Hodder

April 10, 2003

BIPlog post