Most of you have no doubt heard of the brouhaha surrounding Cooks Source Magazine and writer Monica Gaudio. If you haven't, take a moment to read this fairly complete article or stop by Monica's Livejournal for the scoop straight from the victim's digital mouth.
The bit which really frightened me, as a writer, was Cooks Source managing editor Judith Griggs' response regarding the web as public domain:
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain"...
I thought only my students were so asinine. The good news, I suppose, is my students are still learning about things like copyright, intellectual property, and plagiarism. (I hope.) The bad news, for all of us trying to carve a niche in the business of "content creation," is such concepts are a hard sell for the next generation.
They've grown up with free. The internet has made "everything" free; granted, I'd argue most of the "everything" is of less value than premium content. A downloaded mp3 file may be corrupted. But what about fiction...Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Tor.com...a number of top tier genre venues are free to read. Yes, they pay their authors, and pay them well. If the web was public domain...hell, we could all create POD copies of The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction and fill them with stories from these online venues. Public domain my ass.
I've happily posted stories (mostly flash fiction), novel excerpts, and more for "free" online. Excuse me: to read for free online. Does it cheapen my work?
I don't know. I think I know how J.A. Konrath or Cory Doctorow would respond. Maybe.
A comment to one article (from The Guardian) scared me more than any suggestion of "public domain". I believe the author of the content is Todd Howe; he goes by tehowe42 in the comments:
I'm now even more dubious about the legitimacy of copyright law in the way it stifles the sharing of information when no actual physical commodity is stolen.
I could hear my students' voices in that comment. Be afraid, folks. Your thoughts and expressions are no longer your own. That story you just wrote? The "world" owns it. Make sure to send the royalty checks on time. If you understand anything about the history of copyright law, note it was, in part to encourage artists to create and feel safe that they would reap the financial benefits of their work if it was successful (at least for a limited time). Before copyright law, creative ventures were there for the stealing. (Um, why do you think some people question Shakespeare's authorship of his plays?) I, for one, don't want to return to a world of cut-throatery where the most devious could steal bread from the table of the most creative and prolific.
And yes, cut-throatery is not a real word. Yet.