Two weeks ago, a guest post appeared on one of my favorite (and oft-cited) blogs. The author was a mysterious web developer and Arizonian named Jack Zeal, and the post, entitled To Be Esteemed, Be Useful, detailed the cumbersome nature of licenses, even those designed to promote free use. Mr. Zeal concluded that the best alternative was to “embrace the truly unrestricted. Public Domain or equivalent.”
Even on a site full of Pirates, the dissent was palpable.
Many sound arguments cut into the idea of putting work in the Public Domain. I won’t get into those arguments here. Let the technologists argue over the technology. I don’t know software. I don’t know code. But I know fiction. And this post struck me because it came at an time when I was contemplating the exact same thing.
Technologists discovered “free as in freedom” a long time ago, and while they still squabble over the best way to achieve that, the goal remains the same: free flow of ideas. Even in the debates following the article above, the question was not whether to stay on course for this goal, but how.
It could be argued that fiction is totally and incomparably different from software, that the notion of usefulness does not apply to something that’s primary use is entertainment, or that the notion of purity supersedes usefulness when it comes to art.
But I don’t think so.
I think that writers are not so different from their more tech-savvy counterparts, I think entertainment can be useful, and that purity is for bottled water companies.
Writers and other creators are catching on. Even the non-technologically-inclined among us are familiar with the Creative Commons marks cropping up on blogs and fiction. Allowing a wide array of freedoms for a wide array of creations, CC is one step in the right direction.
But I want more.
Ideas–stories–can enjoy a freedom that physical things never can. Imagine: someone’s grandmother tells a cautionary tale, it gets passed around the playground, it winds up in a book of urban legends, maybe one day it even makes blockbuster status at the box offices. We gossip. We embellish. We lie. We daydream. Stories are being born all the time, and some of them even make it to paper. The point is, stories live, and they can live forever. Like all living things, they emerge organically. They grow. They evolve. They are used. They are molded. They share their existence with the other living things on the globe. They make change and are changed in return.
But as modern writers, we’ve accepted a limited lifespan for stories. They begin and end between the covers of books. At least until long after we are dead.
And I want more.
I want my stories to live.
When I’m done with a story, I don’t want it to die a quiet death–not if it doesn’t have to. I don’t even want it to be stuffed and preserved forever behind a pane of glass where people ogle at it all day long. I don’t want a mandatory DNR stapled to its chest the moment it leaves my hands.
I don’t want this to happen to my stories.
And I won’t let it.
The Public Domain a legendary space where readers and writers can work and play to their heart’s content, but it is an elite club with a steep price for entry: you must first die and lay many years in the ground.
Well, fuck that. I’m crashing the club.