Marking and Tagging the Public Domain: An Invitation to Comment

Diane Peters

Almost 1½ years have passed since we launched CC0 v1.0, our public domain waiver that allows rights holders to place a work as nearly as possible into the public domain, worldwide, prior to the expiration of copyright. CC0 has proven a valuable tool for governments, scientists, data providers, providers of bibliographic data, and many others throughout world. At the time we published CC0, we made note of a second public domain tool under development — a tool that would make it easy for people to tag and find content already in the public domain.

We are publishing today for comment our new Public Domain Mark, a tool that allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work’s PD status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or our licenses — it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain copyright status, not change a work’s current status under copyright. However, just like CC0 and our licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet. (Please note that the example used on the sample deed is purely hypothetical at the moment.)

We are also releasing for public comment general purpose norms — voluntary guidelines or “pleases” that providers and curators of PD materials may request be followed when a PD work they have marked is thereafter used by others. Our PDM deed as well as an upcoming enhanced CC0 deed will support norms in addition to citation metadata, which will allow a user to easily cite the author or provider of the work through copy-paste HTML.

The public comment period will close on Wednesday, August 18th. Why so short? For starters, PDM is not a legal tool in the same sense our licenses and CC0 are legally operative — no legal rights are being surrendered or affected, and there is no accompanying legal code to finesse. Just as importantly, however, we believe that having the mark used soon rather than later will allow early adopters to provide us with invaluable feedback on actual implementations, which will allow us to improve the marking tool in the future.

The primary venue for submitting comments and discussing the tool is the cc-licenses mailing list. We look forward to hearing from you!

8 thoughts on “Marking and Tagging the Public Domain: An Invitation to Comment”

  1. Norwegian intellectual property law says that content creators cannot give up the rights to their intellectual property.
    At least that’s the way I understood it.
    But it’s nice to have Creative Commons and ways to license works beforehand. This is a valuable addition.

  2. When determining the copyright status of a work, a lot of details come into play, such as the names of contributors to the work, their roles, birth and death-dates, citizenship, the date and place of first publication, possible renewal. These details vary per jurisdiction. So instead of having somebody make a mere assertion “I believe no copyright exists”, it is much more valuable to have those details available somewhere, preferably with verifiable evidence, such that people wishing to reuse a work do not have to redo the full research.

    It would probably be best to associate such information with a reasonable stable url of the work in question, such that the copyright status information can be discovered automatically fairly easy.

  3. Just a thought, but as the PDM appears to be a copyright logo with a line through it, it may be misconstrued as anti-copyright by ASCAP and similar organizations opposed to the work of Creative Commons.

  4. Marius,

    This new tool (Public Domain Mark) is for labeling works that are already in the public domain. CC0, which we released last year, addresses the situation you refer to–allowing a copyright holder to place a work as close to the public domain as is legally possible, understanding that in some jurisdictions it is possible to abandon more rights than others.


    Assuming the work in question is out of copyright, yes, that’s a use case for this mark.

    akf and Jeroen,

    You’re both absolutely right. Associating reasons a work is in the public domain as well as facts about a work that would help make such determination are things that will be supported as this tool develops. Fortunately our metadata is extensible, allowing relevant annotations to be published with works and reflected on the PDM deed as we vet such annotations. There’s much work to draw from, for example public domain templates at Wikimedia Commons and various efforts to reason about relevant facts to determine copyright status.

    However, this is ongoing work. We’ve learned from use of our existing public domain dedication & certification tool, Flickr Commons’ “no known restrictions” tag and elsewhere that a single public domain label (and in particular, single URL) is of great immediate use to users and curators–and as explained above, more expressiveness can be layered on this base.


    Yep, we thought of that. However, this tool is far labeling works that are not in copyright: a no-copyright symbol is simply factual. Anything else, we’d be inventing yet another symbol or brand, and generally that’s a bad thing for understanding–and we’re very cognizant of concerns that we not over-brand the public domain–that’s why, eg, we moved the CC logo to the bottom of the deed and shrunk it; cf placement on a CC license deed. Furthermore the no-copyright symbol has long been used for the public domain, including at Wikimedia (see link above). Finally, we know from recent experience that if ASCAP and similar make ridiculous claims about CC being anti-copyright, they will be massively corrected by those who know better. 😉

  5. Thank you for the informative post. There will always be people that disagree with the no-copyright symbol (e.g. ASCAP). I think that the Public Domain Mark tool is a great idea and that it will be very useful. Copyright is rightfully a sensitive issue an there are different interpretations.

  6. I understand why the no-copyright I think there are an awful lot of folks who simply don’t get copyright and thus public domain is, for me, a little clearer. Maybe an education campaign we could draw from to explain the domain? I like very much the idea of tagging content so long as folks have a common understanding of why. With yet another attempt to amend copyright in Canada I fear the messages are less than clear for many creators.

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