Satellite dish surrounded by chain-link fences“Distractions” is the word I’ve been using recently to describe what’s been going on at FreeTVBlog World Headquarters since early February. Last week, it became worse than that – they asked for my satellite dish. Let me explain.

The city of Denver is in the middle of a storm sewer improvement project along the busy street next to my office. It’s probably necessary; during heavy rains, the nearby manhole cover would often pop off for an impromptu fountain in the middle of the road. For some reason, the fix involves a large chunk of my easement. You homeowners will recognize the easement as the part of the yard that you mow and water, yet which any utility folks can tear up when they feel like it.

Last week, I got the news that the project would require the removal of a huge, 60-year-old silver maple tree. (I know of its approximate age because I saw its 1964 size at HistoricAerials.com, a great site where any armchair historian or retronaut can spend hours browsing around. But I digress.) The next day, my water turned sputtery and brown. And on top of all that came an email that asked, “Is this satellite dish active? If not active, can it be removed by our contractor?” Arrgh!

The dish in question is pictured above. The pole is my original free-to-air satellite pole, inexpertly sunk in a concrete-filled five-gallon drum, and later (long story) carefully offset into the ground to make it plumb. In the old days, it pointed at a cornucopia of FTA channels. After those went away, I repointed it to the satellite with the national PBS feeds. That’s how I still use it today, supplementing the larger, motor-driven dish that points to most of the channels at FTAList.com. Anyway, that dish is at least 20 feet from the street, so I was incredulous and unhappy that the construction folks might think it was in the way.

Thank goodness I got them to agree, and since then the threat level has diminished. The tree was taken down in half a day, and I’m getting used to its absence the way I felt a week after losing my wisdom teeth. Denver Water came out within hours of being notified, flushed my pipes clean, and offered to return if construction caused the problem to recur. (Although a contractor later rang my doorbell and guided me to the spot on the street where my water main lived, all just so he could insist there was no possible way his construction folks could have caused my dirty water. Sure.) And workers erected some temporary chain-link fence sections on three sides of the dish, presumably to deter overenthusiastic excavators. By the time I return from the NAB Show five weeks from now, they say they’ll have rebuilt my sprinkler system, resodded my yard, paved a wider sidewalk, and protected me from the next impromptu spring-rain fountain. Here’s hoping.

Woody Guthrie photo with word balloons

Is “This Land Is Your Land” in the public domain? It’s complicated, and there’s a pending lawsuit on the subject—you can read more about it here.

Public Domain Day is January 1st of every year. If you live in Canada or New Zealand, January 1st 2018 would be the day when the works of René MagritteLangston HughesDorothy ParkerJean ToomerEdward Hopper, and Alice B. Toklas enter the public domain. So would the musical compositions of John ColtraneBilly StrayhornPaul WhitemanOtis Redding, and Woody Guthrie. Canadians can now add a wealth of books, poems, paintings, and musical works by these authors to online archives, without asking permission or violating the law. And in Europe, the works of Hugh Lofting (the Doctor DoLittle books), William Moulton Marston (creator of Wonder Woman!), and Emma Orczy (the Scarlet Pimpernel series) will emerge into the public domain, where anyone can use them in their own books or movies.

What is entering the public domain in the United States? Not a single published work. Once again, no published works are entering our public domain this year. (Happily, works published in 1923 will finally begin to enter our public domain next year.) The only works that are clearly in the US public domain now are those published before 1923.

It didn’t have to be this way. If we had the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1961 would be entering the public domain. They range from the books Catch-22Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Phantom Tollbooth to the films Breakfast at Tiffany’s and West Side Story, and much more. Have a look at some of the others. In fact, since copyright used to come in renewable terms of 28 years, and 85% of authors did not renew, 85% of the works from 1989 might be entering the public domain! Imagine what the great libraries of the world – or just internet hobbyists – could do: digitizing those holdings, making them available for education and research, for pleasure and for creative reuse.

For the works that are still commercially available, the shrinking public domain increases costs to citizens and limits creative reuse. But at least those works are available. Unfortunately, much of our cultural heritage, perhaps the majority of the culture of the last 80 years, consists of orphan works. These are works that have no identifiable or locatable copyright holder. Though no one is benefiting from the copyright, they are unavailable: it is presumptively illegal to copy, redistribute, or publicly perform them.

What can be done about all this? One obvious first step is legal reform that would give greater access to orphan worksThe US Copyright Office has continued its efforts to find solutions to the orphan works problem. Fundamentally, though, the key is public education about the delicate balance between intellectual property and the public domain.

You can learn more about the public domain by reading David Lange’s seminal 1981 article “Recognizing the Public Domain” and James Boyle’s book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008). Naturally, you can read the full text of The Public Domain online at no cost and you are free to copy and redistribute it for non-commercial purposes. You can also read In Ambiguous Battle: The Promise (and Pathos) of Public Domain Day, an article by Center Director Jennifer Jenkins revealing the promise and the limits of various attempts to reverse the erosion of the public domain.

The preceding post was condensed and adapted from articles by Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You really should go read the full original!

Merry Christmas from Free TV Blog. Here’s the latest installment of our new tradition of marking major holidays and days off with YouTube music videos, from my buddy Art Paul Schlosser. Enjoy!

The family and I have evolved a Christmas tradition over the past decade or so, and whenever I describe it to anyone, they love it. I’ll lay it out for you so you can see whether you want to give it a try.

Every year, we all go shopping at the last minute looking for cheap gifts for each other. Really cheap gifts. The Dollar Tree and Big Lots are our primary sources, but the main goal here is to get a heap of gifts at a low price from wherever.

The second goal is that each gift should straddle the line between welcome and stupid. Examples might include a DVD of an obscure movie or a glowing pen. In the afternoon of Christmas Eve, when most stores are closing, we wrap these little treasures, mark the To and From tags, and add them to the pile under the tree. They sit next to the real, not-at-all-stupid presents that we thoughtfully selected for each other, and that’s the real benefit of this tradition.

On Christmas morning, we take turns unwrapping presents at random. Most of them are deliberately stupid or half-stupid. When I unwrap a locker magnet thermometer (I don’t have a locker), I chuckle and put the stupid gift aside to donate later. If my recipient unwraps something stupid and likes it, I claim special knowledge of their character. On the other hand, and this is important, if they unwrap my carefully chosen gift and laugh it off, I join in on the laugh. Of course that boxed hardcover book set was just meant to be silly!

In short, this tradition removes all the pressure from Christmas morning. It also stretches out the unwrapping process and can introduce surprisingly nice stuff. The Brak CD I once got the wife became a comedy touchstone for us. The plastic tackle box of picture hangers and thumbtacks that the wife presented to me is a go-to resource for minor house projects. And dozens of goofy gifts got quick laughs and an afterlife at a nearby charity thrift store. Go out and give it a try!

Female hands grabbing shiny coins.

© winterling / DepositPhotos

First the good news – Dish has come to terms with CBS this morning. The bad news is that the rest of this post is a shameless money-grab. Maybe I’d have been better off waiting for Cyber Monday, but Fridays are often depressing (it’s still early as I type) and Mondays tend to be newsworthy. The following notes contain affiliate links to some of my advertisers. If you click on one and buy something, I’ll briefly get one of the coins in the photo before sending it along to my web host. (Hmm, adding to my Todo List: Get an affiliate link for my web host.)

Antennas Direct has a very interesting ClearStream TV™ Over-The-Air WiFi Television Digital Tuner that’s on sale as I type. I haven’t tried it yet, and I don’t expect that I’d prefer it to my HDHomeRun and Tablo devices, but yaneverknow.

On the other hand, I’m already very happy with my Roku, so much so that I bought a second little one to keep in my suitcase. If I break down and buy a 4K TV, it’ll probably be one with Roku built-in, so then I’d have a spare to send off to college with my kid.

If you’re one of the people who create those streaming videos to send out instead of just watching them, then you could do worse than use Vimeo, especially now that there’s 10% off Vimeo Live! Use Code LIVELAUNCH10.

Finally, for some serious coins, you could use TripAdvisor to book your next hotel in Las Vegas, maybe for CES or NAB next year. I love the reviews, and you’re going to see some hotels (cough downtown) that are convenient to the LV Convention Center at a lower price that most conference-based booking agencies. Then again, if you’ve got the cash for a really expensive, nearby hotel, you’re probably better off booking with at the conference site. Maybe I’ll see you there!