Anything that prevents you from being friendly, a good neighbor, is a terror tactic. – Richard Stallman
You might have noticed this site is uncopyrighted, and I thought I’d explore a bit my reasoning behind my decision and the underlying principles that brought me to declare that all content on this site is in the public domain.
The modern concept of intellectual property is puzzlingly complex. The topic operates on certain assumptions about human nature, innovation, and the role of the state in the market that I feel are worth questioning, and, if you are willing to follow me down the rabbit hole, ones worth opting out of.
Before we dive into the topic of copyright and the public domain, I’d recommend reading the criticisms section of intellectual property on Wikipedia. It holds a rich set of knowledge from important thinkers on the topic, such as Richard Stallman and Lawrence Lessig.
The primary argument behind intellectual property law is that it is a crucial incentive for innovation. Without this government-enforced monopoly on creative work, innovation wouldn’t happen. By creating intellectual property laws, the government protects the creator, allows for a livelihood for the creator, and enforces penalties on those who copy work without permission.
Are copyrights and patents truly the only means for innovation in creative work? Can markets support creators without the need for government-enforced monopolies on ideas? There is an ever-growing body of evidence that intellectual property laws are actually slowing down innovation.
There is no doubt that both individuals and corporations have made great fortunes due to modern copyright laws, but instead of getting in the weeds on the technical history of copyright law, I’d like to pose a much simpler question: Can you choose not to participate and still thrive as a creator?
Linux and GNU GPL
Linux was initially released in 1991 under the GNU GPLv2 license, protecting source code as free and open source, but also requiring that all derivative works carry the license. This model has worked remarkably well for Linux and many free and open source software projects. It has also worked remarkably well within the framework of copyright enforcement of the will of the copyright holder.
It’s important to note that modern tech company IT infrastructures, cloud computing providers, and the Android operating system wouldn’t be possible without Linux. Arguably an entire generation of innovation stands on the shoulders of the amazing collaborative work that is free and open source software.
Linus Torvalds, creator and maintainer of Linux, has never charged a penny for his work and yet he’s found a community deeply committed to his success as a creator. As of this writing, his net worth is over $150 million.
the public domain
The GNU license enforcement relies on the state, though. So although it protects software’s ability to be free and open source, it is still a restrictive license. You can’t just do whatever you’d like with code. Of course, this is by design, but for my personal views, it makes it less interesting to me. The only “stateless” option, one that holds no level of enforcement of behavior, but honors an ancient view on idea creation, is the public domain. This can be expressed through the Creative Commons Zero (public domain) license, the unlicense, and found in works like zen habits' uncopyright (the inspiration for my site’s uncopyright)
For me, the public domain represents the natural state of knowledge transmission. Without any form of enforcement body, once an idea is unleashed into the world, it’s just there and belongs to everyone. Anyone can use it, anyone can make derivative works. In a way, this is the most honest way of paying homage to our history as a civilization.
The most important aspect of uncopyrighting my work, for me, is the simplicity in my life. You can’t take what is given away freely. I’m liberated from the fear-based thoughts of “that’s mine” and acknowledge that my world-view is inextricably linked to everything around me.
Selected sources for diving in a bit deeper: