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Open_Ed assignments for week 6: Background Readings in Copyright and the Public Domain

7 Ottobre 2007


The papers of this week are all concerned with the issue of copyright and the public domain from an American viewpoint and have underlined the limits of the current copyright law. In Italy, the law provides a limited copyright duration which varies with respect to the different categories subjected to copyright (medicines, musical CDs, software CDs, books, etc.). Unfortunately however, in Italy the situation is even worse than the States because the law does not provide the concept of fair use for educational and scientific purposes. This means that if a teacher, for example, copies even some small parts of copyrighted material for educational purposes, he could be fined and persecuted by the law. Unfortunately, this has happened several times: recently, an Italian teacher, Enrico Galavotti, found "guilty" for having published parts of artistic and literary works belonging to our world cultural heritage on the Internet to illustrate his lessons to his students, has received a fine of 4,750 Euros for the period 2002-2007 by the SIAE (the Italian company in charge of the protection and the respect of copyrights). This behaviour has aroused a wave of opposition and protest against the restrictions of the Italian copyright laws for educational purposes. Many intellectuals and the public opinion have sided in favour of the educational freedom and free circulation of intellectual content for no profit aims and against the restrictions of copyrights for educational content on the Web (read for example: Massimo Mantellini, "Troppi vincoli per scuola e cultura", Nòva, Sole 24 Ore, 15 febbraio 2007; Vincenzo Moretti, "No copyright, please", La Stampa, 11 febbraio 2007]. A petition in favour of no profit education, teaching and culture and against the limitations imposed by the present Italian copyright law has been started this year and is still open…

Actually, the only way for Italian educators to promote culture and education is … piracy. Many teachers know these limitations of the Italian law well but decide to take the risk hoping they will not be caught. As far as I am concerned, in all my educational web-spaces (weblog, podcast, etc.) I have published the following notice:

This space has been created for no profit objectives and with educational purposes. Any violation of a possible copyright is absolutely incidental and not intentional. If anybody disagrees about the publication of his/her own copyrighted works is invited to contact the person who is responsible for this space in order to remove them.

If all works could go into the public domain, they could be freely used by anyone for any purpose. Thanks to the Internet, considered as an indirect example of the immense value of the public domain (Pollock, Value of the public domain, page 12) and thanks to tools of the Web 2.0 in particular, many people are contributing to the public domain, or they are making works in the public domain more accessible to more and more people. However, it is necessary to consider the necessity of a reward for one’s own work, the author’s moral rights and the importance of financial gains. The considerations about a loss in the profit of artists or companies are not substantial if you consider that artists can become successful and have profits in different ways and that if it is true that people do not buy many Cds at the moment, it is also true that they spend their money for other things, going to concerts for example, for a broadband Internet connection and more powerful computers, etc. There is also the very important issue of moral rights, nobody should be free to exploit another person’s work without his permission or for different purposes than the ones stated by the original author.

As Lessig claims in his interview on copyrights, Creative Commons licenses can solve this and related problems of the rivalry between the restrictions of copyright whose extensions could prevent "access to works of the future but also to those of the past" ( R. Pollock, The Value of the Public Domain, page 14) and the piracy of an absolutely free public domain that could harm the objective of both the copyright law and the public domain, namely the common purpose of promoting science and the arts for the good of humanity.

For these reasons, my answer to the questions of this week’s assignment is that I estimate 100% of the positive aspects of the public domain would be realized when cultural and educational works, including  the ones in open educational movements, are licensed with a Creative Commons or GFDL license, as the example of Wikipedia shows.

I’d like to conclude this post with a famous aphorism by George Bernard Shaw: «If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. »


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