Skip to content

Design cover for James Boyle's new book — Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind


Creative Commons board member (now chair) James Boyle’s forthcoming book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind which will be published by Yale University Press in Fall of 2008 under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license.

You could design the book’s cover. To do so, participate in a contest held at Worth1000 with $300 in prizes:

The book is about the fate of the public domain – the realm of material that is available for everyone to use without permission or fee. The book argues that we have been neglecting the vital role of the public domain in innovation, culture, science and politics and increasingly “enclosing it” by expanding the length, breadth and scope of intellectual property rights – copyright, patent and trademark – to cover material that used to be in the public domain. Some examples:

  1. We have extended the length of the copyright term repeatedly and retrospectively, so that most of 20th century culture (books, movies, poems, photos) is still subject to copyright — even if it is not commercially available and we cannot find a copyright holder. That means we cannot digitize that work and make it freely available online.
  2. Copyright over music has become increasingly “granular,” covering even the tiniest 2 or 3 note sample. Would jazz or the blues have developed under the rules we have today?
  3. Broad patents over foundational technologies hamper scientific research in genetics and synthetic biology. Vague business method patents and software patents pose barriers to entry into new markets and hurt free and open source software.
  4. Digital fences and digital rights management are used to prevent “fair uses” of books, songs and movies.

The book ranges over all these subjects – discussing everything from Thomas Jefferson’s view of intellectual property and the way that soul musicians borrowed from gospel standards (and were in turn sampled by hip hop artists and remixers) to the challenges posed to the emerging field of synthetic biology. The author argues that we need a movement – akin to the environmental movement – to preserve the balance between the realm of intellectual property and the “commons of the mind.”

The contest ends in seven days. Read on for the complete rules.

Posted 07 April 2008