Giant Shoulders, Diminutive Domain

DTC 101

Lawrence Lessig argues that the United States has hobbled its tradition of “free culture” by letting copyright protections overgrow their original, limited reach. At the turn of the twentieth century, copyright protected works that were expressly registered with the United States government, and those protections only lasted about thirty years. The rise of the corporatized culture industry in the twentieth century created legal pressure to expand copyright protections. Today we cannot presume any work created after January 1, 1923 belongs to the public domain.

Why is this a problem? For one thing, a robust and relevant public domain ensures creators have the freedom to make use of our shared cultural landscape. When artists look back a generation at the artists that laid the recent groundwork for their own creative work, they take inspiration legal or not. Salamishah Tillet makes this point clear when she points…

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