What is the public domain and why is it so important?
The public domain is what we call all creative works that are no longer under copyright. Works in the public domain can be freely exchanged, sold, traded, copied, etc. Unfortunately, due to numerous extensions of the time period that copyrights last, we rarely see anything go into the public domain anymore.
It is estimated that 98% of all registered copyrights are for creative works no longer of value... in part, because they don't have a chance at getting any real public exposure. What's worse, our existing copyright laws make it commercially impossible for people to restore, reprint, or remaster old movies, books, or recordings that aren't unusually popular and commercially viable. As a result, our cultural history is literally decaying because people cannot justify the cost of restoring it until it goes into the public domain.
The public domain can give old creative works a new lease on life, however, and can provide people with the incentive to restore parts of our past we might not even be aware of. There's one very good example of this... in 1974, the copyright for "It's a Wonderful Life" was not renewed, and the movie slipped into the public domain. At the time, very few people had ever heard of the movie, but PBS and small independent stations started showing it. Today, it's a classic --perhaps the most famous Christmas movie ever-- and has been restored and preserved from decomposition. Who can doubt that there are other movies, other books, other recordings just as worth saving too?
Do history, libraries, and the public domain a favor. Take the time to sign an online petition in support of the Public Domain Enhancement Act and spread the word to your friends. Over 3000 people have signed in the last day, but we're shooting for tens of thousands of people to step forward and defend the concept of a lively, valuable public domain -- one of the great gifts that the Constitution has granted the people of this country. The petition will be sent to congress, in an effort to gain supporters for the act.
The public domain belongs to you and is yours for the taking... but you have to be willing to step forward and ask for it first.