[TUHS] Ultrix...

Mirian Crzig Lennox mirian at cosmic.com
Fri Sep 6 23:59:44 AEST 2002

On Fri, 6 Sep 2002 02:27:39 +0100, Tim Bradshaw <tfb at tfeb.org> wrote:
>* Mirian Crzig Lennox wrote:
>> In fact, the concept of "intellectual property" is a fairly recent
>> perversion, and the consequence has been a steady depletion of the
>> public domain.  When a piece of software (and Ultrix is an excellent
>> example) is tied up in copyright long after it is of any value to
>> anyone beyond pure academic interest, nothing is added to anyone's
>> wealth, and society as a whole loses.
>I think this is kind of unfair in many cases.  Firstly copyright has
>lasted for a fairly long time for, well, a fairly long time. It's not
>some sinister new development which is keeping ultrix in copyright.

Copyright has existed for roughly 300 years[1].  However, the
construction of copyright as a form of property is a relatively recent
development.  The original copyright term in the U.S. was a mere 14
years[2], and copyrights were adjudicated under tort law, not property
law.  As framed in law and interpreted by U.S courts, the purpose of
copyright is foremost the public good (hence the "fair use" doctrine);
the act of 'publishing' is, as the etymology of the word suggests, a
contribution by the author to the public domain, in return for which
he or she is given exclusive right to profit from that work for a
limited prior time.

However, since 1960 the term of copyright has been extended 11 times,
so that no copyrighted work published before 1923 has entered the
public domain (nor will it until 2018, save for future extensions of
the term).  The depletion of the public domain is real.

>Secondly, it's all very well to say that old and valueless bits of
>software should be freed, but if you are the organisation which has
>the copyright on these things it's really less trivial than you might
>think to just give them away.  For a start, there's (almost by
>definition) no money in it, so any kind of work needed is costing
>money.  Secondly there may be just plain trade-secret stuff in there,
>what do you do about that?  There may be all sorts of other awful
>things that you don't want to let the world see.

This is all a totally unrelated issue however.  Copyright refers
necessarily only to published materials, and published materials
cannot (by definition) be trade secrets.  Furthermore, "public domain"
refers merely to legal status, not to any obligation to make physical
materials available.  The presumption is that if a work is published,
then copies already exist in the hands of the public, and they may now
be freely redistributed.


[1]  The Statute of Anne (1710, in England) is considered to be the
     precursor to U.S. copyright law.

[2]  It could however be renewed for a single further period of 14
     years, provided the initial author was still alive.

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