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Where in the world is… this public domain material? Helping users refer to host institutions.

Open Heritage
A collage of text saying “sharing public domain collections CC BY” overlaid on an image of Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” from 1893 signifying shock and fear.
“Sharing Public Domain Collections CC-BY ?!!?” by Brigitte Vézina is a remix of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893), Public Domain, National Museum Oslo. Licensed CC BY 4.0

Today, Creative Commons is releasing new guidelines for open culture: Nudging Users to Reference Institutions when Using Public Domain Materials.

These guidelines have been developed by CC’s Open Culture Team in collaboration with the Open Culture Platform Working Group to investigate use of CC BY to designate holders of public domain collections, led by Deborah De Angelis and Tomoaki Watanabe, and members of the Open Culture Platform.

Whether the institution is a neighborhood archive, a national library, or an art museum, the guidelines offer a fresh and innovative approach to prompting users to reference the institution when using public domain materials. Based on the Working Group’s proposal for a social intervention, they present various design ideas, rooted in the EAST Model for behavioral change.

What problem are these guidelines addressing?

Often, institutions wish to be acknowledged for the role they play preserving, restoring, digitizing, sharing, and overall providing context and meaning for the cultural heritage that they steward. To ensure users “credit” them, many institutions choose CC licenses (which require “attribution”) to release faithful reproductions of public domain material. This is bad practice. Digital reproductions of public domain materials should remain in the public domain and thus be shared under CC0 or PDM.

As a best practice, CC recommends a simple framework to create behavioral change and encourage positive outcomes through “nudges.” The guidelines offer a few design ideas for institutions to provide a comprehensive “reference statement,” if and where appropriate.

The guidelines address key questions, including:

The guidelines are available on the Open Culture Resources page. Download the complete guidelines.

Are you ready to implement one of these designs? Do you have comments on how to expand or improve these guidelines, especially on the technical aspects? Would you like to help make this resource available in other languages?

Posted 23 February 2024