News

WIPO, CC, and Nurturing the Public Domain

Aurelia J. Schultz, August 10th, 2009

For the past year, Creative Commons has been working on tools to help increase access to works in the public domain. Often, it is not clear whether a work has entered the public domain or is still covered by copyright protection. This lack of clarity can cause a lot of problems, and Creative Commons is not the only one concerned about the issue.

For example, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) has begun research on tools for increasing access to the public domain, which relates to what we do at CC in several ways. Part of the WIPO research includes a comparative Scoping Study that will look at different countries’ legislation to see how how the public domain is defined and how public domain works are located. Encouragingly, Severine Dusollier, head of Intellectual Property Rights at Centre de Recherches Informatique et Droit and Creative Commons’ Belgium project lead, is in charge of this study. CC conducted a similar study last year and we’re paying close attention to how our results relate to WIPO’s. (Please note: the CC study is closed; no new input from the form will be accepted.) Part of WIPO’s study reviews private copyright documentation systems, including Creative Commons. Other samples in the study will include traditional collective rights management organizations.

Also of interest to our work at CC is WIPO’s expansion of a previous survey that takes an in-depth look at how deposits work as counterparts to a copyright registration system. One effect of registration, especially with a deposit requirement, is that it helps accrue a central collection location of works. These collections then contain copies of the works as well as relevant information necessary to make a determination of whether or not a work is in the public domain. WIPO’s work with registration and deposit systems is an important step in the quest to identify the contours of the public domain; however, not all copyright-protected work is registered or deposited.

Furthermore, finding information about non-registered or non-deposited works can be very difficult. For this reason, Creative Commons has begun building tools to identify, tag, and increase access to public domain works. Two of these tools, CC0 and the Public Domain Certification Tool, are already in existence and available for your use. A third, the Public Domain Assertion Tool, is on its way.

CC0 allows a copyright owner to waive rights in a work, effectively placing it as close as possible to being in the public domain. Finding works placed in the public domain through the CC0 waiver is easy, because CC0 is machine-readable just like the CC licenses. Our Public Domain Certification Tool can currently be used to indicate that a particular work is already in the public domain. But we are also working on a more robust version of this tool called the Public Domain Assertion tool. This tool will allow anyone to indicate facts about a particular digital instance of a work, giving individuals and institutions a way to participate in making our cultural heritage more user-friendly.

The tool’s output will link to relevant facts and a human-readable deed to assist users in deciding whether a work is in the public domain, and thus available for use without copyright restriction in one or more jurisdictions. For example, U.S. works may be in the pubic domain for any number of reasons but may not be in the public domain world-wide. Diane Peters, CC’s General Counsel, noted that the new tool will “increas[e] the effective size [of the public domain], even if due to copyright extensions works are not naturally added to the public domain.”

So stay tuned for the updates from the future of the public domain!

Aurelia J. Schultz, Google Policy Fellow and Joe Merante, Legal Intern

3 Responses to “WIPO, CC, and Nurturing the Public Domain”

  1. As a culture, more needs to be done to expand and grow our public domain. We need more foundational materials… plain and simple.

  2. leesean says:

    Good work Joe and Aurelia!
    If we returned to a system that required registration for copyright, then public domain would be an opt-out default, not an opt-in process with CC0 or the Public Domain Assertion Tool. If only…

    Since works may be PD in some jurisdictions and not in others, perhaps it is time to carve out a designation for works free from legal restrictions worldwide. Works that would truly be part of human cultural patrimony.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Well-stated article on stressing the importance of defining the boundaries of the Public Domain and the characteristics that can help identify these works.

    The governments of this world need to take the pro-active measures of re-framing their copyright acts for the digital economy (Canada for one is doing that right now with consultations being held around the country); it’s great to see CC doing such positive work too!