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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Can the Law be Copyrighted?

Can the Law be Copyrighted?

September 11, 2008

Carl Malamud, the crusader famous for challenging restrictions on access to government information, is at it again. This time, he is taking on the State of California over its claims that its huge body of state law is copyrighted. Malamud argues that laws, regulations and safety standards should be in the public domain.

What's a WWOOF Worth?

What's a WWOOF Worth?

September 11, 2008

WWOOF is a profoundly bad acronym. Sure, it’s useful: it can function, in its various forms, as nearly every part of speech. It’s a verb (“I WWOOFed last summer.”). It’s an adjective (“This is our WWOOF farm.”). It’s a noun (“I am a WWOOFer.”). It’s even a gerund (“My WWOOFing was educational and productive.”).

Who Owns the Public View?

Who Owns the Public View?

September 9, 2008 | By David Bollier

There is a strip of US 192 in Osceola, Florida, that people used to consider “Tacky Town,” a drab stretch of road that was filled with junky tourist amusements and strip malls – a place with ditches lining the side of the road and no sidewalks. In the 1980s, as National Public Radio reported in a wonderful segment yesterday,

Republicans Bash Citizenship

Republicans Bash Citizenship

September 8, 2008 | By David Bollier

The Republican Party used its national convention to ridicule the very idea of public service. In her acceptance speech, vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin joked, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” Similar sneers about community organizing were made by former New York Governor George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Thinking Beyond the Nation-State

Thinking Beyond the Nation-State

September 8, 2008

An international group of citizen activists has decided that one of the best ways to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001, is to honor “Global Interdependence Day” on September 12. This year, the fourth Global Interdependence Youth Summit will be held in Brussels, Belgium, on September 9-13. The event aims at fostering new kinds of trans-national civic cooperation and global awareness.

Take Us to the Water

Take Us to the Water

September 5, 2008

p(photo-image).


p(photo-credits). What can you find in the River? Decorate the Well in Gratitude Festival, produced by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, photo by Bruce Silcox.


When was the last time you went to a festival celebrating a new drinking fountain? Indeed, when was the last time you even knew about a new public drinking fountain being built?

New Open Dictionary For Kids

New Open Dictionary For Kids

September 3, 2008

The commons is an important concept and perhaps has no more vital place than in public education. Free education is a basic human right, and yet throughout the world, it remains a challenge. Even in the “developed” world, where free education is largely available, commercial textbook publishers and the politically-driven bureaucracy of education dominates the agenda.


Open education is a potential solution to these complex problems.

About Those Ridiculous Textbook Prices....

About Those Ridiculous Textbook Prices....

September 2, 2008 | By David Bollier

As students head back to school, one of the first things they encounter – besides the high tuition costs – are soaring textbook expenses. I blogged about this problem three years ago, but sadly, textbook prices continue to be ridiculous. The average student now spends $700 to $1,000 a year on books – which is about three times more than what students paid in 1986, according to a federal Government Accountability Office report.

Best Little Moviehouse in the Adirondacks

Best Little Moviehouse in the Adirondacks

September 2, 2008

By D. Megan Healey


It is Saturday night at the Indian Lake Theater in the small town of Indian Lake, New York. The coming attractions have only been playing for five minutes when the sound slows down and the screen suddenly turns black. I am the projectionist so I rush upstairs and find a tangled pile of film unraveling out of the projector onto the floor.

If Ecosystems Had Rights….

If Ecosystems Had Rights….

August 29, 2008

Ecuador may soon formally recognize that nature has its own inalienable legal rights. A constitutional assembly that is rewriting that nation’s Constitution has approved new articles that would treat ecosystems and natural communities as having fundamental rights to exist and flourish; they could not be treated as mere property. Under the new articles, land owners could still pursue development, but they would not be able to interfere with the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish.

Wall Street's Next Target:  Roads and Bridges

Wall Street's Next Target: Roads and Bridges

August 27, 2008 | By David Bollier

In a purported news article in today’s business section, the New York Times gave a big wet kiss to the idea of privatizing the nation’s bridges, roads and civil infrastructure. In a nearly 40 column inches, reporter Jenny Anderson casts investors as thwarted social workers ready to do their part in helping to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Transnational Enclosures Threaten Patagonia

Transnational Enclosures Threaten Patagonia

August 26, 2008

Patagonia, one of the most distinctive ecological regions of South America, is now threatened by a series of major dams that the Chilean government is planning. The chief purpose of the dams is to supply electricity to copper mines, two-thirds of which are owned by transnational corporations whose allegiances are to international investors and pay little for the copper they extract.

Who Owns “The Last Best Place”?

Who Owns “The Last Best Place”?

August 25, 2008 | By David Bollier

When a corporation wants to privatize a popular phrase or symbol that it thinks will be useful for its business, it usually seizes it as a trademark. The public that popularized the catchphrase in the first place is legally prohibited from using it without authorization. An extra bit of barbed wire prohibits people from “tarnishing” or “diluting” it. After McDonald’s claimed “I’m Loving It” as its trademarked tagline and Wal-Mart claims the “happy face” as its private property, you may need a lawyer to defend your right to use those expressions in certain public ways.

Fair Use Gets Its Groove Back

Fair Use Gets Its Groove Back

August 25, 2008 | By David Bollier

Can a mother post a videotape of her toddler dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” on YouTube without violating the fair use doctrine of copyright law? The “dancing baby” case has attracted some amused attention and outrage in copyright circles in recent months. Now a federal judge has declined Universal Music’s bid to “go crazy” with copyright law, and has instead stood up for the fair use doctrine.

Appeals Court Upholds Free Public Licenses.

Appeals Court Upholds Free Public Licenses.

August 22, 2008

In an important victory for online sharing and reuse of works, a federal appeals court has upheld the legal basis for the General Public License (GPL) for software and Creative Commons licenses for music, film and writings. While the legality of these licenses has long been assumed, the ruling gives “important clarity and certainty” to the legal premises of free public licenses based on copyright law, says Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig.

When Rogue Robots Fall in Love

When Rogue Robots Fall in Love

August 21, 2008 | By David Bollier

WALL-E is surely one of the most subversive films to hit the big screen in years. What might easily be mistaken as a kids’ film because it is a feature-length cartoon is in fact a melancholy masterpiece that artfully combines a love story, dark satire and fierce social commentary about our nightmarish consumer culture.

Our Desire for Streetcars

Our Desire for Streetcars

August 17, 2008

We’re getting back on our trolleys.

An energy-efficient form of transportation that shaped the growth of our communities in the early 20th Century but then deemed hopelessly old-fashioned and demolished in most cities between the 1930s and 1960s, streetcars are now running again or being constructed in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Charlotte, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and other cities according to the New York Times.

Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and many international cities have never gone off their trolleys.

Commoners as an Emerging Political Force

Commoners as an Emerging Political Force

August 17, 2008 | By David Bollier

On The Commons Fellow David Bollier offered these thoughts at the iCommons Summit in Sapporo, Japan, on July 31, 2008. iCommons is an international gathering of people exploring the potential of digital technologies to develop new online commons.

Commons for a Small Planet

August 14, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

When the idea of the commons comes up— meaning a shared inheritance that belongs equally to each of us—people naturally think first of the basics of life: air, water, the environment, our bodies, language. These are the things that touch us every day.

Is Fair Use Regaining Its Mojo?

Is Fair Use Regaining Its Mojo?

August 10, 2008 | By David Bollier

Many musicians cower at actually using the “fair use doctrine” of copyright law because they know that Big Media has the legal firepower to impose its own definition of the law. Rather than get tagged as a “pirate” and endure huge legal expenses fighting to vindicate their rights, most musicians are inclined to play it safe and keep a low profile when borrowing from a previous artist.