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What is publicagrum ?

Publicagrum is the term I coined to describe the equivalent of copyright in an intellectual property landscape where intellectual property is defined as an occupation of the public domain, which it is not today for most of intellectual property rights. In this approach (first popularized notably by professor Lawrence Lessig), the owner of a "copyrighted" (really "publicagrum") work, has to pay a yearly fee to retain its rights, as is the case with trade marks.

The work goes into the public domain, definitively, when the owner stops paying.

Publicagrum has its own weaknesses, but it solves many problems. Some of the problems with the current approach to intellectual property are:

  • Time-bounded copyright is controversial: organizations retains (and defend) what they see as their property, has really no commercial value, that the public view as abnormal, thus encouraging piracy,
  • On the other hand, works that still have a commercial value fall into the public domain, pushing for unlimited extension of copyright, and widening the gap between copyright holders and the general public.
  • More and more works are produced by crowd with no intention of commercial usage (think about people that upload their birthday party to youtube), but they are covered by copyright.
  • In a world where thought processes are more and more mechanized, the idea of a "work of the mind" loses its sense: if a computer program translate a text into another language, who is the author ?
  • With the creation of "artistic" works being more and more complex, more and more specialized rights are "created" (actually taken from the public domain), like interpret rights, musician rights, mechanical reproduction rights, author rights, making a simple work a (deliberate) maze of rights, leading to an exponential escalation of litigations.
  • And there are the "orphan" works, piece of works you can't even find the author to work with.

All the problems with copyright are that works are worth money (sometimes), if they were worthless, certainly people won't fight so bitterly to know who owns what and who can do what. Often the debate is polluted because moral rights are entangled with money rights, and great words are spoken such as "art", but I think a sound approach to the problem is to separate both. When you say that Dali's the Great Masturbator should have the sky red, not blue, this is art (in this case, Dali is right of course...). But when you say that the work should be worth 500 millions of pesetas, and that the great-grand-son of Dali should get 3 pences on every picture sold, while its nephew should get only 2, this is definitely money, not art. So you should approach it from a money perspective: the public domain is the basic regime, but if you want to exploit it commercially, you can, but you should have to pay some taxes for it. At some point, the tax money will be more than you can hope to get from your publicagrum, you will decide to let if down and to exploit some other work in your portfolio.

In short, having to pay forces the publicagrum owner to make choices, instead of the "I retain everything, even if I don't exploit it approach".

Why this word

The word has 3 advantages:

  1. each idea should have its word (in my opinion), so we know what we are talking about. This is a kind of counter-1984 newspeak, or Russell-ian approach if you prefer;
  2. it derives from latin public agrum (public fields);
  3. according to google today (8 march 2013), there is no page with it, so it's a new word, it perfectly defines its own field.


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