Just For The

Public domain day

On the first of January each year, new works enter the public domain: those whose copyright expired, which in Belgium happens 70 years after the death of the author. Works in the public domain can be freely used, modified and published, on Wikipedia for instance.

Worldwide, Public Domain Days celebrates newcomers in the public domain. This year in Belgium we welcome the creations of Gertrude Stein, Léon Spilliaert, László Moholy-Nagy and H.G. Wells, amongst others who died in 1946, 70 years ago — a strange celebration ritual…

For this occasion, in collaboration with Femke Snelting, we are preparing a performative collection of texts. A collection that plays with the concepts of public domain, copyright, and the idea of the individual author that these two concepts both celebrate. What kind of new rituals and identities can we imagine for future creations?


Beatrix Potter
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sophie Scholl
Jane Avril
Simone Weil
Sophie Taüber-Arp

Fanny Clar
Mathilde de Morny
Lucienne Heuvelmans
Noor Inayat Khan
Milena Jesenská
Yvette Guilbert
Josette Clottis
Selfie Monkey

Käthe Kollwitz
Anne Frank

Émilie Gourd
Helene Schjerfbeck
Helen Bannerman
Marguerite Delorme
Dion Fortune
Jeanne Lanvin
Cécile Brunschvicg
Musch Eluard
Gertrude Stein

A partial list of women whose creative works are public domain

Collective death of 2nd wave feminists

They had met in their early twenties during consciousness raising meetings around the Vancouver feminist scene and soon had organized into a fully fledged group. Eager to contribute to the movement, they settled to write a text that would crystallize the problematics they were dealing with: the Women's action viral evolution, or as it was often called the ''W.A.V.E.''.

At the time there we're no exceptions to copyright laws, so that one always had to ask the permission to use the manifesto in any way. And while they we're content to answer all the requests they received, they felt something was profoundly dysfunctional in this system. If the text was to be the sea change they wished it to be, everyone had to be able to copy it, to expand it, to transform it freely.

They had an idea, well like many good ideas, it was first thrown in the conversation more as a joke than a serious proposal. But then they kept toying with it, until the moment that it felt like the only possible solution.

They had to die.
They had to die as soon as possible.
They had to die as soon as possible, so that the text could be set free as soon as possible.

Even if it would still take 50 years based on Canadian copyright laws, it would still be better than waiting until the last one of them passed away, and then adding another 50 years to that!

One day they rented a boat, headed towards the deep sea, and never came back. Only remains of the shipwreck, and oddly enough, a finger that was identified to one of the members of the group, washed up on the nearby coast.

Their tragic death at sea only increased the aura of the W.A.V.E. - a title that sounded now all too prophetic – which grew to become a touchstone for feminism and one of the most influential texts of the end of the 20th century. 50 years later, when it finally entered in the public domain, it inundated the libraries in all forms of publications. It was even to win the Nobel prize in literature, never before offered posthumously and even less to a collective of authors. It was translated to 11 languages and was to meet an international success.

''W.A.V.E.'' was in the vitrine of a small bookshop in Honolulu, and caught the attention of a group of old ladies walking by. One of them entered the store and enquired about the book. The librarian explained it was a famous text from a collective of Canadian writers from the 60's which was now finding a second understanding. She bought a copy, and as she waived goodbye, he noticed that the little finger was missing from her wrinkled hand.

The author is dead nor alive

In her 1992 book, Differences That Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism, Sarah Ahmed responds to the post-modern and in some way post-human understanding of the Death of the author, offering an alternative to both the author as originary and the author as dead.

[this text is a collage]

She writes:
The author is in-between life and death, made alive after the the event of that life's possibility: made alive through a kind of death which is initself a gift to the living.

If the author is dead, what to make of 'women's writing'? [author in relation to writing only]

By declaring the author dead, he still haunts the text as an invisible ghost.

The universalism of the masculine perspective relies precisely on being disembodied, lacking the contingency of the body.

A feminist perspective would surely emphasise the implication of writing in embodiement, in order to re-historicise this supposed universalism, and to locate it.

Instead of asking:
Who really spoke?
Is it really her or nobody else?
With what authenticity or originality?

We could ask:
Where has the text been used?
How did it circulate?
Who can appropriate it for herself?
Where does it leave space for possible additions?
Which bodies wrote this text ?

What if we let go of the author as a unifying principle, neutralising contradictions that may structure any clearly demarcated set of texts? By opening out the the process of writing to the contexts of authorship, the text would not resolve, but instead complicate: the text becomes more difficult to govern and de-limit.

To ask: 'Which bodies are writing' opens up a broader context which is neither inside or outside the text itself. It decenters the text from the hands of a single human, opening it up for other presences.

We can think about the table that the text was written on, the dictionary that provided a synonym, other texts that came alive through the writing, various companions that interfered, contributed and distracted.

If the author is dead nor alive, how could we imagine Public Domainday as a celebration of contexts and relations? Of bodies and kinships, rather than singular voices located in isolated individuals?

Tho whom it may concern,
Lately I have seen you refer to the Public Domain as ‘essential to economic well-being of society’. In your attempts to convince those that consider strong copyright as good for business, you sometimes forget to explain why it is important that cultural works should be available.

A rich public domain and fair access to copyright protected material enhances creativity and the production of new works. It is often assumed that economic growth benefits from ever stronger intellectual property rights while some concession must be made to copyright exceptions for purely social reasons. In fact this is a false dichotomy. Many industries require access to copyright material for the purposes of research and development, education, software or hardware interoperability. A lack of reasonable access can actually hurt economic growth. IFLA Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters (2007)

The common cultural and intellectual heritage of all of us belongs to the Public Domain; common as in available and accessible to everyone and anyone, not the property of everyone and anyone.

No permission should be required to translate, annotate, combine, adapt, or excerpt from cultural works.

To create new resources, and publish these resources online for others to use.

This makes possible debate, irony, inspiration, imagination, critique and experimentation.

Which in turn fuels and is fuelled by public institutions.

Providing access; excess not scarcity

An excess of accessible resources constitutes a thriving public domain: potentially relocating who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.

Education, research

A thriving public domain means a culture that is about relation; circulation not separation

In that sense, its contribution to economy is only a detail.

[It is like explaining public space by its importance for driving gentrification]



stop defending the public domain in terms of 'not hurting economic growth'

Save the date

the death of The Death of the Authors’s author

The Death of the Author, a text published in 1967, questions the traditional conceptions of the author’s creativity and authority.
It argues that the relation between a text and its creator isn’t as tight as we have been used to consider it.
However, the copyright of the text is tightly linked to its author, Roland Barthes. Or more precisely to his death, in 1980. The Death of the Author will only enter the public domain 70 years after its author’s death, in two-thousand and fifty (2050).
In what sometimes looks like a lottery, the winning numbers are:

The waiting period for free access and circulation of works. The calculation is based on the death of their authors: 70 years after.
On the scale of human life, 70 years is a long time. The life expectancy of a woman born in Belgium in nineteen hundred (1900) is 50 years. Today it is eighty-three.
To benefit from the rights of repoduction on your work equally during your life and after your death, you will have to create your work at thirteen. Not to put any pressure on you!
Anyway, to reassure you, big profit made on the copyright of creative works is rare.

Copyright was initially developed to promote the creative status of authors work, and to stimulate and remunerate this work.
The way we envision copyright is still very similar to the founding of the notion in the 18th and 19th centuries, uniformised internationally in 1886 at the Berne Convention.
This conception didn’t change fundamentally since then, even after the spread of the internet which radically changed the ecology and economy of sharing knowledge.

After the first Berne Convention, the length of copyright was not calculated from the death of the author, but from the date of publication. The period was 50 years.
It was only in a later edition that it became relative to the death of the author, for 50 years too. Individual countries were free to have a longer copyright term, until the European Union standardised on 70 years.
It is hard to find an explanation for this exact number. It seems to be the result of a compromise between different countries’ legislations : apparently the way of least resistance, is up.

One unique date of death, one unique author, one unique work.
The way the law defines creation is very much linked to an understanding of the Individual author, with a big I. When several authors are credited for a work, the last one’s death determines the year of liberation of the work.

Each year, the works enter the public domain on the 1st of January. All the dead are celebrated at the same time.

What about collective authoring — which we can argue is always the case —, what about anonymous authors, ghostwriters, what about those who couldn’t access the status of author, whose names were forgetten in the writing of history, who are not in the lists of famous authors entering the public domain each year?
What if we considered the life of the work, rather than the death of its author?

Noise, terms and anectdotes from the treasure chest of the unslayable Hydra, the many-headed cyberfeminist pirate :

«There is an embarrassed silence on piracy in the entire public domain debate»

«Piracy’s absence from this debate is significant, perhaps because it fundamentally disrupts the categories of the debate of property, capitalism, personhood and the commons that have moved the debate in the past decade.»

«Although the public domain has emerged as the most viable alternative to the expansion of intellectual property, the question is whether the public domain is the only way by which we can understand both the contemporary conflicts around intellectual property and the limits of the approach with regard to accounting for the status of piracy. Can the world of the public domain and the world of the pirate be narrated as though there is a seamless web that should necessarily tie the two?»

«One of the objections to piracy seems to lie in the fact that it is associated more with the world of pleasure and desire than with meeting “pure needs.” Let me begin to discuss this objection with an story about the intersection between the world of desire, subjectivity and the experience of piracy.»

«An NGO in Bangalore that works in the field of information and communication technologies for development was conducting a workshop on accessing the Internet for the information needs of rural women working to empower other poor rural women in India. The facilitator guided the women through the basics of the Internet, including how to access information relevant to their work, which ranged from providing access to credit, to promoting women’s health. The training was highly appreciated, and all the women volunteers seemed to enjoy themselves while fiddling with the computers and exploring the Internet. At the end of the training, when the NGO started cleaning up the computers, including the browsing histories and the cached copies of the sites accessed, they were a aghast to discover that most of the women volunteers had been surfing pornography—and a range of pornography, at that. So while the trainers were waxing lyrical about the real information needs of the poor, the poor were quite happy to access their real information needs.»

«The links between pleasure, desire, aspiration and trespassing have always been complicated, and the closer that the transgressive act is to the domain of pleasure, the more difficult it seems for it to be redeemed socially.»

«Speed is central to the race between distributor and pirate. Just as distributors now plaster the market with many prints in simultaneous time, so pirates release camera print prequels and highquality sequels. The race between industry and copier is a small part of the cultural story of the pirate story.»

«‘True copies’ of the original are filtered through the ‘noise of the real’ – pirates cut longer films, insert advertisements and sometimes add censored scenes to releases. Each version becomes a new one, with camera prints in the first release, advertisements in the next and hundreds of versions of popular film and audio hits. This proliferation of near-copies, remastered versions, re-visions refracts across a range of time–space shifts, moving between core and periphery of the mediacity almost phenomenologically, rather than spatially.Versions of popular numbers are produced by the pirate market, fade from the big city and return in devotional music, or local videos from the states of Bihar, Haryana and Western UP – back to the city, brought by migrants and travellers. In short, piracy does not dwell only in objects or spaces, it enacts them momentarily. Its materiality consists in its mix of place, time and thing, a mix that dissolves and reconstitutes itself regularly.»

And you? An unpure mix of
Dispossessed, divested, stripped, robbed, cheated out of, deprived, done out with.
Inalienable, inviolable, absolute, sacrosanct; untransferable, nontransferable, non-negotiable, unrobbable.
Out of
Need, requirement, necessity, prerequisite, demand, deprivation, urgency.
pleasure, enjoyment, fun, entertainment, recreation, leisure, amusement, diversion.

«‘Informal’ is the term I have found most useful, at least for media industries’ analysis, because it imports into the discussion about distribution a longer history of structural theorizing and also sets up a discussion that is not, and cannot be, organized along moral lines. Informality is neither good nor bad: everyday life is a combination of formal and informal activities, transactions and interactions. Seen from this perspective, media systems take up ever-shifting positions along a spectrum of formality. Piracy becomes an after-effect of changes in regulatory structure.»

«We would only ask for patience from the scholars of the public domain and ask the same careful attention that they pay to understanding the larger politics of copyright when they look at the phenomenon of piracy.»

Informally yours,

Notes: All anecdotes and terms stolen, copied and pirated from Postcolonal Piracy – Media distribution and cultural production in the global south, Edited by Anja Schwarz and Lars Eckstein

bookclub knowledge

Tellings from ''Oral Knowledge, Typographic Knowledge, Electronic Knowledge: Speculations on the History of Ownership'' by Doug Brent

It has frequently been observed that computers are revolutionizing the concept of knowledge ownership. A change that can be paralleled with the shift from oral to literate culture in about the fifth century B.C. which enabled a profound shift in human consciousness, bringing about the linear, abstract forms of Western logic that we take for granted today. 

In a primary oral culture - that is, a culture that has never known literacy - knowledge is not owned; rather it must be performed over and over again in order to survive.

It is also never fixed, for there are no old copies to go back to. The tellers must therefore be able to reproduce the forms and plots in which their community's knowledge is contained as faithfully as possible. Yet, the stories change imperceptibly over time to suit the needs and values of the culture as that culture changes.

The most important result of the invention of writing was a separation of text and performance, of knowledge and knower.

If knowledge can be separated from the knower, it can be owned by separate individuals. As the manuscript society came into existence, it became more common to attribute written tales to their sources in prior texts.

But it was the printing press that made private ownership of knowledge a necessity, for it was the printing press that finally severed the connection between the creation and the transmission of knowledge. For transmission was now a mechanical act, performable by a machine. 

Copyright laws were soon created as a means of preserving this intellectual property, and by the eighteenth century, copyright was firmly established not only as a means to ensure that an author will be paid for his ideas, but also to ensure that he will be able to protect their integrity by granting him the sole authority to correct, amend or retract them. 

The modern abhorrence of plagiarism, of course, has never meant that one should not use another's ideas. The practice of bringing ideas forward and integrating them into later works is fundamental to the modern belief that knowledge is cumulative and improvable.

Thus the effects of printed texts are somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, the explicit pointers to earlier texts reinforce the fact that knowledge is built communally, through the interactions of thousands of individuals. On the other hand, the fact that each idea can be labelled with the name of its maker has created the romantic myth of the individual creative genius. This myth manifests itself in the arts as the unrealistic figure of the brooding artist creating in solitude, and in the sciences as the individual inventor, the Nobel prize winner who sees what no-one has seen before.

In this context, then, what might the second shift, from print to the electronic space afforded by word processing, computer conferencing, and hypertext, do to our sense of the ownership of knowledge?

While the metaphorical meaning of print technology is isolation, computer mediated communication provides a totally different metaphorical message.

The sliding together of texts in the electronic writing space, texts no longer available as discrete units but as continuous fields of ideas and information, is so much easier--not just physically easier but psychologically more natural-- that it is significantly more effort to keep the ownership of the ideas separate.

These effects are at their peak in hypertext: a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper. Undoubtedly the most extreme example of text that is both nonlinear and participatory. Collaborative knowledge platforms developed over the last decades, such as Wikipedia, are a perfect embodiment of this idea.

The only sense in which copyright can continue to have meaning in electronic space is the sense of acknowledging an original creator of an idea. But to acknowledge parentage is not the same as to maintain a claim of ownership. Without the sense of master-and-duplicate that the printing press imposed, there is no intellectual ground for present attempts to toughen copyright laws in order to protect "intellectual property."

They are like holding a sieve under a breaking dam.

All ideas taken from :
Oral Knowledge, Typographic Knowledge, Electronic Knowledge: Speculations on the History of Ownership by Doug Brent

It’s not that I’m against bringing back things from the past. It is in fact great to gather bodies of work, from different times, around the table. Raising the dead and let them speak to us, and with us — re-activate their works.

Never mind the 70 years and the official 2017 list, let’s go back further, dig deeper into the public domain.

In 1818, the book Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is published anonymously. Mary Shelley is 20.
The story of Frankenstein was invented two years before, on the evening of the 16th of June 1816, when a group of friends gathered to play a game of telling the scariest story ever.
The story reflects widespread contemporary concerns on the back and forth between life and death, resurrection, and galvanism, amongst other scientific experiments of that time.

The novel of Mary Shelley and the relation to concerns of her time give many interesting threads to think about creation and copyright constructions.
Copyright is like putting a work in a “preserving coffin”, from its creation until 70 years after its own author’s death.
After that period, the coffin is re-opened and the work can be freely remixed with other ones already out of their coffins.

Creative works can be seen as Frankenstein’s creature: a composition made of pieces assembled together. It would be difficult to attribute a date of birth to the creature. Is it the moment when Frankenstein puts life energy in the combined pieces? Or do we consider the birth of the separate bodies? Dr Frankenstein shows us bodies that never strictly die: at the end of one lifetime, they become parts and pieces for another.

Peaches and pears and cream

All poetry fragments taken from Getrude Stein's poem Sacred Emily (1922), in 2017 - the year when Gertrude Stein's work ­becomes public domain.
All images from retired poetry generating software McPoet, whose slogan is «Doing for poetry what McDonalds did for food».

If an author has published more than the minimum requirement of 15 publications that are public domain, a folder containing the author's work can be scanned and used to create a writing protocol and style guide for one’s inner monologue, should one’s own thought structure prove insufficient.
§2.8.2 It is however not advisable to switch one’s inner monologue writing protocol more than once a year due to risk of neuroconfusion.

Beer in hand and still wearing her jacket she finds a chair at the back of the bar, the tension of a long day's work clutching her neck and shoulders. The barman is busy with people she is not particularly interested in looking at and she pulls out her phone. Holding it slightly under the cover of her open jacket she logs in to her personal portal and changes her inner monologue's writing protocol from «Adam Smith» to «Gertrude Stein, collected poetry». She presses «confirm» and an ease comes over her as her mind’s protocol guide scans through the folder for usable patterns and her vocabulary and thoughts are restructured.

Night town.
Night town a glass.
Color mahogany.
Color mahogany center.

The bar noise grows distant while she slowly drifts away, suddenly not minding having to wait, not minding that she arrived early while Emily is late. Her inner monologue becomes patient, picking up words as if they were unbaked dough. Her mind too resembles unbaked dough. Soft mud. Her senses are heightened, as she picks up a word and folds it over.

Do or.
Table linen.
Wet spoil.
Wet spoil gaiters and knees and little spools little spools or ready silk lining.
Suppose misses misses.
Curls to butter.

It is not functional to select this folder as personal writing protocol, to think in this structure. Not when she's at work, nor anywhere else for that matter. It is only at night, after a drink or two that she lets herself do it. It seems like a lost opportunity not too. And of course she knows the instructions, she is always discreet about her habits. Only doing it in places it can be computed as drunkenness. Because although «Adam Smith» caters well to solving her life's situations, and was a necessary career choice at the time, thinking with «Adam Smith» gives her cabin fever once there is no real practical reason to keep her thoughts organized. Organize. Organ. Eyes.

She remembers when the works of «Victor Hugo» were made available. The frenzy that followed. How popular it became to use as personal protocol. How everybody started to talk in long, winding sentences. Started to think and behave according to his logic. Personally, she never used it. It didn't do anything for her mind, didn't solve problems nor give room for escape. But when Stein's poetry was made available, it unhooked every tension. Mud and dough. She feels her tongue resting on top of a small puddle of saliva in her mouth as her vocabulary and logic twists. Arguments vaporize from her mind and her hands feel different. Normally they are always busy, but now they lay on the wooden table in front of her feeling the clear laquer. As if the dough is starting to slip between her fingers, she finds it hard to focus. Structure is falling apart. Her inner monologue's writing protocol is now completely caught up, and synchronized with Stein’s pattern of writing.

Murmur pet murmur pet murmur.

She sees Emily arrive. Out of breath, in work wear and red cheeks, squeezing through the crowd. Emily's mind’s writing protocol still on «Susan B. Anthony» she'll give a formal reason to what held her up, politely order a drink, and smile before taking out her phone to discretely change to «Gertrude Stein», let her mind synchronize, breathe out, and put her head on her shoulder.

Page ages page ages page ages.
Wiped Wiped wire wire.
Sweeter than peaches and pears and cream.
Wiped wire wiped wire.
Extra extreme.
Put measure treasure.
Measure treasure.
Tables track.
That will do.
Cup or cup or.
Excessively illegitimate.

They smile at each other, sip their beer, gently close their eyes from time to time. Talk in mud and dough and words that split and multiply.

Leave us sit. I do believe it will finish, I do believe it will finish. Pat ten patent, Pat ten patent.

The barman comes over with his arms in the air and a weary look on his face. She can't make out what he's saying, but shakes her head briefly, giving him a disarming smile. This arm hanging in the air. He smiles back, disarm disappear. Skin in intimate invitation gone on only ongoing. Vaporized logic like dew on dough, droplets clinging to everysideoftheirskin. They drink the drinks washing over their tongues of clean and new vocabulary twisting on a mix of saliva and beer is finished when they squeeze through the compact, fleshy people like mass destruction of order and grids and maps of the street which they find under their feet once they're out the door.

Push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea.

Future Rituals

Here is a proposition of future rituals: what if, instead of celebrating creative works based on the death of their authors we would celebrate the multiple lives of the works?

Let’s celebrate all the drafts that were ever started, talked about, maybe never continued!
Let’s celebrate all the drafts that finally became something else!
Let’s celebrate the different versions of a work, that all benefitted of the touch and advice of several persons.
Let’s celebrate the first publication of a work.
Let’s celebrate a newly edited version.
Let’s celebrate the existence of the same work in two copies, slightly different.
Let’s celebrate by re-circulating, transmitting, citing, copying…
Let’s celebrate the public domain.

Organised by Constant, CRIDS, Cinema Nova and the Royal Library of Belgium on the 27th of May 2017.