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Memories of the 28th Century

Public Domain

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So who really owns what is in the public domain, and I am referring to intellectual property? This should be a question, because no one (no individual or group of individuals) owns what is in the public domain. This came up because of a discussion of something that J. K. Rowling is writing in regard to North American wizarding. She takes some terms from American Indian spiritual practices, and some people seem to be very upset about that. It is my opinion that Rowling has as much right to use such terms as anyone else in the world, because the terms, and a lot more, are in the public domain.

If some people want to keep their cultural terms and activities secret, then they shouldnít let the public learn about those things. Once it gets out; itís too late. There are many religious cults and secret societies that would prefer to keep their practices secret. The Masons explicitly demand that members not publicize their rituals and such with threats that death will be the punishment, but that hasnít prevented the publication of a number of books that reveal Masonic ritual. Other organizations that try to keep their beliefs and rituals secret include Zarathustrians, Mormons, and Scientologists. Zarathustrians don't let people of other nations convert tot their faith, but their religious texts became widely known a long time ago. I don't believe that they have horrible punishments for outsiders who look at their religion, and I have never heard that they have great penalties, because they know that everything became public a long time ago. Mormons and Scientologists simply prevent some of their information from becoming public, and they have been generally successful, but both are relatively new organizations, so the truth hasn't come out fully.

Those are rather large organizations that are just religious in nature. Apparently, some American Indian tribes want their religious beliefs to be treated as private. But, like Zarathustrianism, their beliefs and so on became largely public a long time ago, so that material is out of copyright, and copyright covers text rather than ideas, and all of the ideas have been available to the public for a long time.

I would contend that all such material goes into the public domain, unless it is kept strictly secret. I don't think it is reasonable to even try to put a lid back on matters that have been known widely for hundreds of years, but that's my opinion.

There seem to be people who think that Rowling is abusing the religious beliefs of some people by using words and some concepts from their religions. I regard that as being comparable to saying that only Christians can say anything about Christianity, or that only Nazis can say anything about Nazism. I expect humans to comment on the behavior of other humans, and since humans judge everything, they will express their opinions of the values of these behaviors.

There are many belief systems in which it is said that you can't understand without being part of that thing. While that is partly accurate, observations from outside have objectivity that insiders can't even see. But that's almost beside the point.

Who owns the cultural past and present? I would contend that all human culture is the common property of all humans. If some people are using some cultural thing at a given time, then one would expect that they would have some proprietary feelings about it, but does that give them exclusive rights? I think not.

Dear readers, where do you stand on this? Do present users of a cultural matter have ownership rights, or are they just using something that belongs to everyone?