The Web Is In The Public Domain... But The Document That Put It There Is Locked Up By Copyright

from the copyright-everything dept

We've pointed out before how grateful we are that Tim Berners-Lee didn't look to patent the World Wide Web in the early days, because it's unlikely it would have developed as it did if he had. Over at CERN, where Berners-Lee worked at the time, they have an archive in which they show "the document that officially put the World Wide Web into the public domain on 30 April 1993." Indeed, it is a great thing that CERN quickly and clearly put the main concepts behind the web into the public domain. But, as David Sleight points out it does seem rather ridiculously ironic, that in order to view the documents that "put the web into the public domain," you have to agree to a copyright notice from CERN:
Technically, CERN is probably correct. While it put the concepts that underlie the web into the public domain, the specific images and documents are still covered by copyright. Furthermore, it's quite likely that the "conditions of use ©" notice are just standard artifacts on basically every CERN document or image. However, it still highlights how we live in a world today where people are constantly in a default mode of "protect" everything and "lock up" everything, even in cases where it makes absolutely no sense. Does this document need copyright? Obviously not. Is there any purpose at all in having it under copyright? Not at all. And yet, it is. And that's a sad statement on the nature of copyright today.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Violynne (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 3:33am

    Thank Mickey Mouse for this stupidity. This mouse is what made copyright "automatic" to begin with.

    Will someone put a trap out so we can catch this vermin and kill it.

     

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  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 5:03am

    In Corporate America "Intellectual Property" copyrights YOU.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Ermintrude, May 29th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    IP

    Why don't we call it 'Imaginary Property' instead? It seems to me that phrase sums up the concept and its problems quite well.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    We should be grateful he didn't put DRM on the web, too...Oh wait:

    http://www.infoworld.com/t/html5/berners-lee-and-w3c-approve-html5-video-drm-additions-228220

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 5:47am

    Defensive Copyright

    Wouldn't this be the same as filing defensive patents - - to cover your back, so somebody else doesn't appropriate it ?

     

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  6.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 5:54am

    Re: Defensive Copyright

    Wouldn't this be the same as filing defensive patents - - to cover your back, so somebody else doesn't appropriate it ?

    No.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 6:09am

    Re: Defensive Copyright

    No, not in any sane world, for any reason. At most, it should be public domain, for the same reason that 'www' is.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 6:37am

    I do not understand how one could patent the world wide web, but ok. Based upon other silly patents that have been granted I suppose it would have been granted eventually, but only if it had included doing so "on the internet".

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 6:38am

    that being the case, why is it that the US government and US entertainment industries, particularly MPAA and RIAA are doing whatever they can possibly think of, legal or not, using bribery and anything else that comes to mind, to get to totally control it? surely if it's in the Public Domain, not single or multiple industries or government(s) have the right to decide what can and cant be done by whosoever at any time?

     

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  10.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 7:18am

    Re: Defensive Copyright

    But, surely the entire point of putting something in the public domain is that nobody can do such a thing?

    Seriously, the reason is probably this: CERN were advised to put a boilerplate copyright notice on all pages on its archive page, and whoever implemented it didn't think to make exceptions for certain documents.

     

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  11.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 7:28am

    Re:

    "I do not understand how one could patent the world wide web, but ok."

    The world wide web is based largely on the HTML markup language and underlying protocols such as TCP/IP and HTTP. Any of these could have been patented or locked up by copyright (meaning on available to via a specific licence).

    CERN and Berners-Lee opted not to do this, and the open nature of the standards enabled the massive, exponential growth of the web to what we use today. Most of the rise of the web is as a direct result of the fact that anyone, anywhere could build and publish a website without licencing or paying anything to allow them to do so.

    You probably couldn't patent "the world wide web" as a whole, but it would have been easy - especially in the early days - to lock down the many components it's built from.

     

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  12.  
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    madasahatter (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    Automatic Copyrights

    Two suggestions for copyrights to return to the orgininal purpose in the US Constitution:

    1. Copyright must be applied for after the work is created. If one wants to monetize a work or prevent others from using one must file for a copyright. Note any fees charged should be nominal and an application can cover multiple works by the same creators such as songs, short stories, poems, and images.

    2. The term for a copyright should about 15 years and is non-renewable. Very few works are commercially viable after about 5 - 10 years from release and have significant sales. Most books, movies, music, etc. are released with the spike in sales or attendance peaking within a few weeks or months of release. The vast majority of works probably have commercial lifespan of maybe a 3 or 4 years. Remaindering is part of the publishing business when unsold stock is discounted very sharply to clear the inventory.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 7:59am

    Re:

    The concept of the web is really an extension of the concept of Hypertext, which goes back to 1945 (in a sense, it's just "hypertext on the internet"). The web as a whole was probably unpatentable (if we had a sane patent system) due to copious prior art starting at that time. TBL might have been able to patent certain refinements that went into the web, but not the web itself.

     

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  14.  
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    nasch (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    that being the case, why is it that the US government and US entertainment industries, particularly MPAA and RIAA are doing whatever they can possibly think of, legal or not, using bribery and anything else that comes to mind, to get to totally control it?

    They're not trying to directly control the protocols, which is what CERN could have patented but didn't.

     

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  15.  
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    nasch (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 8:03am

    Re: Automatic Copyrights

    3. Copyrights held by a corporation must have a declared value. This is the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed in a lawsuit, and the corporation must pay taxes as though they owned property of that value. (this might be tricky to implement due to tax loopholes)

     

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  16.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 10:39am

    Re: Automatic Copyrights

    The term for a copyright should about 15 years and is non-renewable.

    I'd be quite alright with copyright being renewable indefinitely, so long as the government collects taxes on the property (if they want to treat intellectual property like physical property, then they should pay for it like physical property.) At some point, it will no longer be profitable to keep the IP, and it would become public domain the moment they don't pay taxes on it (just like other forms of property, i.e. real-estate, automobiles, etc..) The taxes could go to fund public works (which would not be copyrightable,) and to build a publicly accessible database (free-of-charge) for all works currently under copyright and their licensing terms (cutting out the waste involved with clearing copyrights.)

     

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  17.  
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    PRMan, May 29th, 2014 @ 10:59am

    Re:

    I thought it was a bunch of wacky Europeans (Berne Convention).

     

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  18.  
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    PRMan, May 29th, 2014 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    Exactly.

    1-5 years = free
    6-10 years = $1 but you must register
    10-15 years = $10
    15-20 years = $100
    20-25 years = $1,000
    25-30 years = $10,000
    30-35 years = $100,000
    35-40 years = $1,000,000
    40-45 years = $10,000,000
    45-50 years = $100,000,000

    and so on. Eventually, the expected gains are overwhelmed by the license fee, probably in the 25-30 year range.

     

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  19.  
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    Andypandy, May 29th, 2014 @ 11:47am

    Re:

    Could this letter actually put some conditions on the free copyright of the internet, which does not make sense to me, but these days copyright is so crazy, I could see it happening, maybe they have something hidden in there that could allow them to sue the government and isp's for breaking it.

    Saying that copyright and patent reform needs to happen sooner rather than later and should actually be done with every part of it being voted on by the citizens, not some bribed member of congress or other entity that has received bribes from other interest groups.

     

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  20.  
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    nasch (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    I would set it up more like this:

    2 years = free and registration is required
    3-5 years = $1000
    6-10 years = $10,000
    11-15 years = $100,000
    16-20 years = $1,000,000

    etc

     

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  21.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    As an added bonus, a graduated system like that would not only reduce the actual length of copyrights, I believe it would also keep us in compliance with the Berne Convention because you *could* maintain your copyright up to and past the time lengths required.

     

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  22.  
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    nasch (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    True, if you want a 100 year copyright, just pay a billion dollars! I wonder if the Berne Convention allows a requirement to register for copyright.

     

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  23.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    I wonder if the Berne Convention allows a requirement to register for copyright.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't allow registration to be a requirement:
    Article 5(2) of the Convention states:

    The enjoyment and the exercise of these rights shall not be subject to any formality; such enjoyment and such exercise shall be independent of the existence of protection in the country of origin of the work...

    So yeah, that's a bit of a problem. Although, the US kind of ignores other parts of Berne, like the moral rights stuff, so I don't really know.

    I wonder if having the first few years as automatic, then requiring registration for renewals would be sufficient.

     

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  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    And there must be a registration requirement. In my opinion this is even more important than the fee schedule.

     

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  25.  
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    nasch (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    I wonder if having the first few years as automatic, then requiring registration for renewals would be sufficient.

    Maybe the first month can be registration-optional. :-)

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2014 @ 8:01pm

    Re:

    ugh, may flash never die then, so i can download content at will, with the good safeguards in place, its not a bother

     

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  27.  
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    The Wanderer (profile), May 30th, 2014 @ 5:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    I recognize, understand, and agree with the arguments in support of that position.

    However, I think there are also legitimate arguments in support of the position that registration causes problems in some cases. (E.g., it serves as a barrier to entry, making it harder for the small guy to get started in the face of competition from larger and/or established players.)

    Those arguments may or may not be strong enough to trump the arguments in opposition, but they are at least enough that they should not be dismissed out of hand. Also, making some concession to those arguments would likely make it far easier to get such a change adopted, and if properly crafted the negative impact of such a concession could be sufficiently minimal to allow it to be worthwhile.

    That's why my own suggestion, which I posted in the comments a week or three back, did not require registration for the first (short) term of the copyright but did require it for renewal.

    (I actually have other suggestions which could take the place of that one, including replacing copyright entirely with a "distribution right" which imposes some rather different limits, but I've yet to find one which satisfies me as sufficiently unambiguously an improvement over the current concept of copyright that I want to champion it as something to actually push for implementing.)

     

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  28.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 30th, 2014 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    "(E.g., it serves as a barrier to entry, making it harder for the small guy to get started in the face of competition from larger and/or established players.)"

    I've registered a large number of copyrights over the years, and I can attest to the fact that neither of those things are true. Copyright registration is cheap and easy, even for the small guy ("small guy" including a highschooler whose only investment is his allowance and whose only time in evenings and weekends.)

     

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  29.  
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    nasch (profile), May 30th, 2014 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Automatic Copyrights

    Also, making some concession to those arguments would likely make it far easier to get such a change adopted, and if properly crafted the negative impact of such a concession could be sufficiently minimal to allow it to be worthwhile.

    Well if we're talking about things the actually have a chance of happening in the next, say, 10-20 years, none of these proposals are relevant.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous, Jun 1st, 2014 @ 10:56am

    If the Web is in the public domain, shouldn't everything ON it be as well?

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2014 @ 11:36am

    Re:

    That's not how it works. At all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Pragmatic, Jun 1st, 2014 @ 2:00pm

    Re:

    While I sympathize with your views, AC, that's not going to happen any time soon.

     

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  33.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 1st, 2014 @ 3:12pm

    Re:

    No, the status of the standards and protocols of the internet is independent of the status of the content on the internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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