Subject: Re: Please add "Public Domain" to "license" list
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 11:40:05 -0800

Quoting Gregory Pomerantz (

> Abandonment divests title to the work from the author, and I have no
> reason to think title would vest in somebody else. Did you have
> something in mind?

Perhaps I was not clear:  My question is not whether any particular
person has come into possession of a particular abandoned title, but
rather whether title continues to exist.  The point is that, if title
_does_ persist, irrespective of who owns it, then the work clearly has
not become public domain.

_Some_ analogies with physical property are possible:  If a ship is
derelict at sea, someone else can successfully claim title by right of
salvage.  The original authors are deemed to have abandoned title, but 
the ship doesn't cease to become property.

Copyrights can be only poorly analogous, of course, because the
property in question is abstract and synthetic:  The work cannot be
"salvaged" in the same sense as a drifting ship, because there can be 
an indefinite number of independent instances of the work, rather than a
single, canonical property instance.  Seizing one physically and
standing over it doesn't serve well to post one's claim to the others.

Does the first person to pull the film canisters out of the rubbish bin
gain copyright?  Does he have to worry about being sued by the dustmen
before he can safely say the film's copyright was legally abandoned?
The film studio, when it finds out about the dumpster raid?  I don't
know.  Neither do you.  ;->

Thus, I'm sure an interesting conversation could ensue, at this point, 
about how, if at all, title to an unexpired but (stipulated for the sake
of discussion) legally abandoned copyright ends up in the custody of a
subsequent owner.   It's intriguing to speculate about, and I'm sure
it's a popular topic among fans of "abandonware" proprietary software.
However, unless I'm missing something, the claim that a particular
(hypothetically) abandoned copyright has gained public domain status is
speculative, and I wouldn't rely on it until an appellate judge agreed.

(I think the above exhausts my interest in "public domain" theology.
I hope nobody's going to try to launch an off-topic debate about the
legality of redistributing "abandonware", or I may have to killfile this
thread in the name of continued sanity.)

Cheers,      "Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first
Rick Moen     woman she meets, and then teams up with three complete strangers       to kill again."  -- Rick Polito's That TV Guy column,
              describing the movie _The Wizard of Oz_
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