How the public domain can win

August 30, 2022 — Public domain products are strictly superior to equivalent non-public domain alternatives by a significant margin on three dimensions: trust, speed, and cost to build. If enough capable people start building public domain products we can change the world.

It took me 18 years to figure this out. In 2004 I did what you would now call "first principles thinking" about copyright law. Even a dumb 20 year old college kid can deduce it's a bad system and unethical. I have to tell people so we can fix this. I was naive. Thus began 18 years of failed strategies and tactics.

One of the many moves in the struggle for intellectual freedom. Aaron Swartz is a hero whose name and impact will expand for eons.


You cannot trust non public domain information products. You can only make do. By definition, non public domain information products have a hidden agenda. The company or person embeds their interests into the symbols, and you are not free to change those embeddings. People who promote these products don't care if you spend your time with the right ideas. They want you to spend your time with THEIR version of the ideas. They will take the good ideas of someone like Aristotle and repackage them in their words (in a worse version), and try to manipulate you to spend time with THEIR version. They would rather you waste your time with their enchained versions, then have you access the superior liberated forms.


Public domain products are strictly faster to use than non public domain products. Not just faster, orders of magnitude faster. You can deduce this for yourself. Pick any non public domain product. Now enumerate every possible way you might use that product. Write down a estimate of how long it would take you to do that task. Now pretend the author just announced the product is now public domain. Enumerate over your list again, again estimating the time it would take you to do each task. For some tasks that time estimate won't change, for many it will drop from hours to instant. For some it might drop from years to instant. For example, say the product is a newspaper article about some new government bill and your task is updating it with links to the actual bill on your government's website and then sharing that with friends—that task goes from something that may take months (getting permissions) to instant. When you sum the time savings across all possible use cases of all possible products, you'll see the orders of magnitude speed up caused by public domain products.

Cost to build

Public domain products are far cheaper to build than non public domain products. Failure to embrace the public domain increases the cost to build any information product by at least an order of magnitude. This is because not only are most tasks a builder has to do sped up as explained above, but also because building for the public domain means you can immediately build less. For example, you don't have to spend a single moment investing in infrastructure to prevent your source code from leaking. Time and resources you are currently wasting on worthless tasks can be reallocated to building the parts of your product that matter.

Imagine that! You get to do less, move faster, and your products will be better and trusted more. I can't believe it took me so long to realize the overwhelming superiority of public domain products.

The Rise of Public Domain Products

SQLite's meteoric success is not a fluke. Public domain products dominate non public domain alternatives on trust and speed and cost to build. SQLite is the first of millions to come.

Is Disney dead?

Heck no. No way future people will be paying $10 for crappy streams. People will watch their own downloaded public domain files locally. But have you seen Inside Out? Amazing movie. It sticks with you. Makes you eager to spend $1,000 on a trip with your family to an Inside Out theme park. Money finds a way. Companies that engage in first principles thinking will also conclude that the math is clear: Public domain products are strictly superior to equivalent non-public domain alternatives by a significant margin on three dimensions: trust, speed, and cost to build.

Build a public domain product

It took me 18 years to figure out that you can't tell people the public domain is better. You have to show them. Try building your own public domain product. Look through the telescope with your own eyes.

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