Works that find their way into the public domain are available to everyone and no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests. It is for the common good and can be used or exploited for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Once a work is in the public domain it cannot be reestablished as for copyright (there have been exceptions). It is believed by many that without public domain progress would not occur because innovation is often the result of building upon previous innovations.
Others believe that innovators need to be assured that they can benefit, economically, from their innovations. If time, energy and money are spent to create something, the creator should be allowed a certain amount of time to recoup their investment. Both the public domain and copyright (as first written in the
But copyright laws have changed dramatically over the last 200 years. The founding fathers did not make copyright a lifetime deal nor did they intend it to be renewed in a perpetual way. Yet that is what copyright law has come to. Also, one no longer needs to register a work for it to be copyrighted, and nothing inadvertently ends up in public domain. The balance has been lost and copyright seems to be more about perpetual profit than about the common good.
Society over the last two hundred years has also changed. In the present we have a digital world and an information/service economy which have contributed to the need for change.
Lawrence Lessig put together a non-profit business that is working toward allowing copyright laws to mirror the original intent of our forefathers with the benefit of reflecting the present digital works and information/service societies in which we are a part. Creative Commons offers insight, tools, and services as well as creative options to think about when you create something. You can reserve some rights, put your work in the public domain, or even replicate a copyright as it was first introduced (for 14 years with an option to re-register another 14 years). The most important function that I see regarding Creative Commons, is the education one receives about copyright and how the present law is creating more harm than good.
Not many people would voluntarily give up their work to the public domain and so society suffers. That suffering is quite evident with digital tools. Fair Use was meant to mitigate the imbalance between public domain and copyright but Fair Use is a subjective, ever changing law (which some people argue it needs be). The digital age has made creative works easily produced, reproduced, available and distributed. It has also accidentally trapped a creative work in a background for which copyright holders have held many innovators hostage (not to mention the common good).
Educational materials and the present society have intersected in such a way that re-evaluation of copyright and public domain is inevitable. Thank goodness for Creative Commons that allows for varying degrees of copyright.
There are educators all over the world that believe the barriers to education should come down. They are willing to share their work and make it available to the world. But should they put it in the public domain?
As an educator what is the incentive of putting your work in public domain? Once there, you have no rights to it and no one has to give attribution for the work. Anyone can take it and turn it into something they can copyright and keep behind the very barriers the educator was trying to tear down. The incentive appears to be good will with no selfishness attached. The one thing that is nice about the Creative Commons License and the GFDL is that the person who uses the work has to keep it in the same state and cannot make it proprietary. That ensures that the barrier the educator was attempting to tear down will not be built back up with his works by someone else. I can understand why an educator would choose a Creative Commons license over putting their works in pubic domain, but either one is better than a straight copyright. Putting work in the public domain just means less tracking, less work. If one were to force the issue and make OERs subject to having to be in the public domain I think you would lose the good work of educators who care.