by Jason Weston

As most readers of this newsletter are aware, David Werner’s book Where There Is No Doctor broke new ground in self help health care. The book demedicalized and demystified health information and put the power of knowledge into the hands of people the world over for whom it had previously been out of reach. But before getting to the table of contents, David broke new ground in another arena as well. He “de-legalized” the book with an innovative and progressive open copyright policy, allowing any and all people and groups to copy and adapt the book to their needs and circumstances, as long as it is done on a non-profit basis. This would become the open copyright statement in the front of each and every book by David Werner.

The open copyright statement of every book by David Werner:

Any parts of this book, including the illustrations, may be copied, reproduced, or adapted to meet local needs, without permission from the author or publisher, provided the parts reproduced are distributed free or at cost—not for profit. For any reproduction with commercial ends, permission must first be obtained from the author or the Hesperian Foundation. The author would appreciate being sent a copy of any materials in which text or illustrations have been used.

To understand why David did this, it is important to understand how the book evolved. Where There Is No Doctor, originally written and published in Spanish as Donde No Hay Doctor, grew out of Project Piaxtla in the rural mountains of Western Mexico. It holds within its pages the stories of many whose lives, and sometimes deaths, provide a window into a much larger community. The book was truly a labor of love.

I recently read some early editions of this newsletter, and the following passage from 1971 stood out. David wrote,

A baby is born . . . and begins to fail shortly after birth. An urge deep within us, almost as basic as hunger or lust, demands we do our utmost to save that baby’s life…. The infant deserves to be saved, not because it is living but because it is loved! Love is the ultimate and the only justification for all life and any life, for any and all action. There is no other. None.

(See Newsletter #07 for the full quote in its poetic context.)

It is David’s deep personal connection with the people in his community that inspired all his books, and inspired the open copyright. Even though David was the focal point for the books, the village of Ajoya and the surrounding region contributed immensely to their development. The open copyright printed in the front of each of these books is, in large part, a reflection of what was learned in this community over many years. These books truly belong to the community that spawned them, and to the much larger community of humankind.

Today, David’s books assist health and disability workers in communities around the world save lives and help disabled people regain or increase their capacities, thus their copyrights are a sacred trust. The only real reason to copyright these materials is to maintain their quality, and to assure no one tries to limit access to them.

It is in the spirit of the open copyright that HealthWrights has put all of David’s books in electronic form, and published them on our web site. We realize that for many the Internet remains beyond reach. But more and more, it is becoming a truly world wide web, and disadvantaged people around the world are slowly gaining access.

David initiated the open copyright to help assure that these materials would be available to those who most need them. Since its inception, the open copyright has stood as a model that many other groups around the world have emulated, creating a large body of work that puts the needs of people before profit. Putting David Werner’s books online for all to use is a contemporary expression of the open copyright.

Today there is a thriving open-copyright movement. How much of it has been directly influenced by David’s pioneering example is anyone’s guess.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that encourages flexible copyrights for creative works. Their model allows the author of a work to retain their copyright, but offer some rights to anyone who meets certain conditions stipulated by the author. That stipulation may be as simple as getting credit for being the creator of a work, or something more complex such as reproducing a work only on a non-profit basis. And it applies not only to text, but also to pictures, movies, and

sound (music, speeches, etc.). For more information, see:

We have also seen this extended into software with the copyleft movement. As explained on the “Gnu” website,

Copyleft is a general method for making a program or other work free, and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.

In that way it uses David’s open copyright idea to assure that new innovations remain free and adaptable as well. See: