Charlie Nesson, one of the founders of the Berkman Center, asks us to consider who we are, and what is our public space. The query that informed the early life of the Berkman Center was whether we, on the internet, were capable of governing ourselves. To address this question, we need to ask what our domain as a people is. He offers, “We are the people of the net, and our domain is the public domain.”
If you want an orderly world of real property, you should build a registry. It’s the same in the world of bits. Charlie is now working on a directory of public domain, starting with the Petrucci collection and the IMSLP – the international music score library project. Charlie doesn’t mean public domain in the strict legalistic sense. Instead, he asks us to think of the public domain as the bits you can reach through the net. We can then separate the space into the free and the not-free, as constrained by copyright and by market.
To ensure we can be the people of the public domain, we need to build our domain on a foundation that is solid in law. We’re going to build based on collections organized by registrars. The problem with that strategy is that registries can be the focus of litigation risk. So the goal is to work with a reputable law firm to protect the registrar, the registry and users of the registry. That helps us positively define the public domain and defend it.
How does this relate to privacy? It’s worth thinking about the key actors involved. What are actors that appreciate individual privacy? Governments are interested in surveillance. Corporations are interested in data acquisition. Look at the librarians and we’l find allies. They are connected to powerful institutions that share the values of privacy.
Judith asks Charlie to strengthen the connection to privacy. He responds, “I don’t like privacy. It tends to be too closely associated with fear, and it always seems like a rear-guard action against technology.” Instead, we should work on the architecture of the public space and ensuring we architect for private space.