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Wed May 4 18:08:57 EDT 2011

- there exists in the worldwide permaculture community dissention over
whether the logo should be in the permaculture public domain - and, thus,
available for use by all permaculturists - or whether it is valid to assert
intellectual property rights over permaculture works as permitted under
various national copyright legislation

- some permaculture educators were under the belief that they could make
some use of the permaculture logo, because of what they had been told in the
past, and had informed their students of this; this probably contributed to
the present confusion over copyright

- the above understanding was changed with notification by Darren Doherty of
Australia Felix Permaculture of the trademarking of the logo by Bill
Mollison (or was it by the Permaculture Institute?) in July 2000; this
transferred property rights to the logo to the holder of the trademark and
made unlawful the use of the trademark, without permission, by others

- the situation now is that the logo is unavailable for use by permaculture
people and organisations, other than for the purpose of use on merchandise
for a maximum period of two years on payment to the Permaculture Institute
of AUD$250 a year

- the use of the logo even for non-profit purposes and by community
organisations would now be a breach of the law; one leading Australian
permaculture educator has already been asked to cease using the logo or face
legal proceedings.

Possible solution...
The discussion makes clear the desirability of a widely recognisable logo,
representative of permaculture, accessible by permaculture people and

Why, then, with the snake-egg logo unavailable, should we not design our own
global permaculture logo?

Such a logo could:

- use the familiar 'egg' shape

- be accessible to all holders of a PDC for professional, promotional and
other approved uses, users could register their use with a responsible
national permaculture body

- be accessible to community-based permaculture associations who would
similarly register its use

- the use could be administered by permaculture institutes in the USA and
other countries and by Permaculture International Limited in Australia; the
aim of administering the use of the logo by approved individuals and
organisations would prevent its use by shonky or unethical organisations or
people seeking to represent their use as 'permaculture' when it clearly was

Where to from here...
Perhaps a way to proceed in the design of a universal logo would be for:

- interested parties to place their preferences for symbols to use in the
logo - and what they represent - on this email discussion

- later, a number of graphic designers to present design options on a
website and for interested people to comment prior to putting up a final
design for approval.

A global logo should:

- be simple and visually 'strong' and thus easily identifiable

- be of contemporary appearance

- be promoted widely by permaculturists.

Failing agreement to design a logo globally, perhaps groups in their own
countries, such as Permaculture International Limited in Australia, could
take on the task to design a logo to be used in their own regions.

Discussion and legal clarification has made it clear that national copyright
legislation applies to particular expressions of permaculture, such as
books, videos, multimedia, other print media, course curricula, logos and

Copyright does not apply to the word 'permaculture' (a word or idea cannot
be copyrighted, a word can only be trademarked). Only particular expressions
of an idea are copyright.

This means no one can copy more than the limited amount permitted under
their country's copyright legislation of Mollison's or the works  of others
for distribution in permaculture courses. It's time to make our own course
handouts and to produce our own graphics and copy for our community group

There was some suggestion in the online discussion that Bill/ Permaculture
Institute could attempt to trademark the word 'permaculture'. Others said
that because the word had come into common use over the past 20 years, this
would be difficult to do. Were it done, the trademark holder (Mollison?
Permaculture Institute?) could then licence permaculture teachers, stipulate
what was taught and how, and charge a licence fee.

There are no indications that Bill or the Institute plans to attempt to
trademark the word.

With the knowledge that ideas and words are not copyrightable but that
expressions of them are, one interpretation sees the notion, that only
graduates of permaculture design courses (PDCs) can teach permaculture, go
out the window.

The situation (which needs further clarification by a copyright lawyer)
seems to be that:

- anyone can offer courses irrespective of whether they have a PDC

- anyone can use the word 'permaculture' in any way

- control of the word has been ceded by the permaculture community

- it is possible now for anyone to define what permaculture is

- it is possible for anyone to set for themselves what constitutes a
permaculture design course.

Does this seriously threaten what vestige of quality control now exists over
courses? The course provider would become the arbiter of what was
permaculture. Permaculture may become a word of a thousand definitions.

All our own fault?
In one way, this situation is the outcome of the inability of permaculture
people to make effective collective decisions. I am aware that various
groups have in the past volunteered to address various things about
permaculture education - with zero outcome.

Whenever some 'umbrella organisation' or higher level of organisation is
mooted, it is decried by some as 'centralising' permaculture or 'creating
heirarchies'. Better the 'decentralised' model, they say.

Sure, the decentralised model is fine, but permaculture ends up with a
thousand voices - most of them preferring to remain mute - and no
representative voice to comment. Thus, permaculture remains largely
'invisible' in the public affairs arena and is seen by some influential
people and bodies to lack credibility.

This situation has likely worsened since the withdrawal of Bill Mollison - a
loud and clearly identifiable voice for permaculture - from public life.
Where there was once Bill, we now have a vacuum. I know of none of us who
could fill Bill's shoes. So, then, do we now need some 'umbrella
organisations', perhaps at the national level, to fill this Bill-free

As well, maybe we need a non-fractious way to come to international
agreements on permaculture issues, to make effective decisions. It doesn't
surprise me that I have found that one thing stands out as missing from the
permaculture design system - that's people skills, the skills to solve
problems, to reach agreements, to negotiate effectively and without anger
and fractiousness, the ability to properly plan and resolve conflicts. I
contend that is a serious omission for a system that claims to deal in 'care
of people'! (Yes, I know there are exceptions among some permaculture

Permeating the online discussion was a sense that change may be needed in

What form of change remains largely unexplored.

Congratulations to all those who participated in the online discussion. The
ability to redefine what is permaculture and to set standards and processes
belongs to those who speak out.

My the discussion continue...

...Russ Grayson

Permaculture & Media
Russ Grayson and Fiona Campbell

PO Box 446, Kogarah NSW 2217 AUSTRALIA
Phone/ fax   02-9588 6931   (IDD-61+2+9588 6931)
Email: pacedge at

PERMACULTURE/ COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: permaculture education + Community
Gardens Network (NSW contact) + organic gardening training + overseas
development aid project services.
MEDIA: publication design + desktop publishing services  + website design &
content production + journalism/ photojournalism.

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