The Problem with the Public Domain

Let me tell you about one of my more strange hobbies: making content in constructed languages. I can draw, I can play the piano, I can animate, and I can program video games and utilities. I’ve made multiple blogs for different languages, such as Esperanto, Ido, and Láadan, and I have a YouTube channel for conlang-related videos (I moved all my separate conlang channels into one.)

But, coming up with original content can be hard. Especially if you’re short on time (and very obviously not doing this work for any sort of income), it doesn’t make sense to make 100% original content in an obscure language that only a small amount of people learn. Luckily, we have the Public Domain. There are public domain TV shows and movies, books and comics, and even music. Certainly, we could spend some time translating works in the Public Domain to build up the library of entertainment available in conlangs!

But here’s the problem: Due to the U.S.’s shitty copyright law items don’t enter the Public Domain until a very long time after it was originally created. According to Wikipedia,

The public domain will reopen on January 1, 2019, when works from 1923 lose their copyright protection.

The implication here isn’t just that we’re stuck with translating boring black-and-white oldies (though I do find this to be pretty boring fare to work with), but something else: The past sucked. (Though that isn’t to say that today doesn’t also suck.)

I am hesitant to really rework anything in the Public Domain because any movies or TV from then are going to be 99.999999% white and contain a lot of racism and sexism. It’s not stuff that I want to watch, and when I’m translating for a feminist language like Láadan, it’s sure as hell not something I want to put into the language’s culture.

It drives me up a wall that the only things there are to choose from are so monocultural. Adventure books are about men going on adventures, winning women as prizes. Television shows are about the stay-at-home wife and the clean-cut, pipe-smoking dad. Movies and cartoons can often contain super racist depictions of Black people, Asian people, Native Americans, … really, anyone who isn’t freaking white.

Our television today is already white-washed enough as it is, but if we have to go 95 years in the past to not break copyright law, we’re sure as hell not going to fare much better.

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