A World Without Copyright Law?

A colleague on a private email discussion group I am involved with made reference to an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune from October 8, 2005, by Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schijndel called “Imagine a World Without Copyright” which posits, in part, that a world without copyright law would free up the public domain and prevent cultural monopolies.


  1. I thought that it was noteworthy for where it was published, as much as anything.

  2. Ted, believe it or not, your post has sent me on a real trip down memory lane: back in the late eighties I was studying at the University of Guelph in the area of computing in the humanities. I did a small part in helping to organize a conference on this topic around ’88, held at U of T. I remember one session where this crazed fellow came flying wildly down the aisle, ranting and raving about his amazing project to get all the world’s texts (literature and other) online and hyperlinked with its related commentary. Conversely, new documents could be created with subtle hyperlinks back to the source document. We could greatly expand the greatness of all humanity by “standing on the shoulders of giants” before us and add to their great thoughts! New works of art would spring up, and all of literature would be open for us to work with, share, rework, and create into something even more fantastic. Wouldn’t this be great!!

    Well, that fellow was another Ted, Ted Nelson whose Xanadu project was the original the World Wide Web might be said to have been styled after by Tim Berners-Lee. Unfortunately the Web has never really lived up to Nelson’s ideal. I see that the idea of a copyright-free web never really worked out, and they ended up developing a complex copyright policy. But the idea really captured my imagination, especially as I went on to be a library student and learned about making books, information, and literature as available to everyone as possible. This is not just an ideal, but actually a principle of librarianship.