Why I Will Not Sign the Public Domain Manifesto
by Richard M. Stallman
The Public Domain Manifesto
has its heart in the right place as it objects to some of the unjust
extensions of copyright power, so I wish I could support it. However,
it falls far short of what is needed.
Some flaws are at the level of implicit assumptions. The manifesto
frequently uses propaganda
terms of the copyright industry, such as
protection”. These terms were chosen to lead people to
sympathize with the copyright industry and its demands for power.
The manifesto and its signatories use the term “intellectual
property”, which confuses the issue of copyright by lumping it
together with a dozen other laws that have nothing significant in
for more explanation about this point.) Ironically it uses the term
first in a sentence which points out that this manifesto is concerned
only with copyright law, not with those other laws. That is with good
reason: the other laws are not relevant to copying and using published
works. If we seek to teach the public to distinguish between these
laws, we should avoid setting an example which spuriously lumps them
General Principle 2 repeats the common error that copyright should
balance the public interest with “protecting and rewarding the
author”. This error interferes with proper judgment of any
copyright policy question, since that should be based on the public
explains this error and how to avoid it.
It would be difficult to stand aside from a campaign for the right
goals merely because it was written with unclear words. However, the
manifesto falls far short in its specific goals too. It is not that I
oppose them. Any one of its demands, individually, would be a step
forward, even though the wording of some of them discourages me from
signing my name to them.
Rather the problem is that it fails to ask for the most important
points. I cannot say, “This manifesto is what I stand
for.” I cannot say, “I support what's in this
manifesto,” unless I can add, equally visibly, “But it
fails to mention the most important points of all.”
General Principle 5 opposes contracts that restrict use of copies
of public domain works. But where we most need to oppose such
contracts is where they apply to works that are still copyrighted
(this is how Amazon tries to claim that you don't own the e-book that
you bought). Likewise, General Principle 5
but only when it applies to a public domain work. In effect, it
legitimizes most real DRM by omitting it from criticism.
I've saved the biggest omission for last. General Recommendation 9
calls for allowing “personal copying” of copyrighted
works. Since it omits the issue of the freedom to share copies of
published works with others, it fails to address the nastiest aspect
of copyright: the
on Sharing that the entertainment companies are now waging.
The demands and recommendations of the Public Domain Manifesto
would be a step forward. It may do some good if it inspires people
who have accepted the industry position to begin to doubt it.
However, if we adopt this manifesto as our goal, it will distract us
from what we really need to fight for.
The Public Domain Manifesto tries to defend our freedom within the
walled garden of the public domain, but abandons that freedom outside
it. This is not enough.
I ask the authors of the Public Domain Manifesto, and the public,
to please join me in demanding the freedom to noncommercially share
copies of all published works. Also please
and help our fight against DRM wherever it may be found.