Happy Public Domain Day
Timothy Vollmer, January 1st, 2013
Each year on January 1st, copyright protection expires for millions of creative works, allowing those works to be used by anyone without restriction or need for permission. On this Public Domain Day, we celebrate the rich creative works that have risen into the public domain, and mourn the massive number of works that could have been in the public domain but which aren’t due to unreasonable copyright extension or the chilling effects created by Byzantine copyright term schemes. The excellent Public Domain Review–which catalogs and offers some interesting insight, explanation, and analysis into unique and unusual treasures in the public domain–has profiled some great works from the Class of 2013. But in other countries, nothing will enter the public domain again this year.
While copyright terms continue to be extended and policymakers support a detrimental enforcement agenda, there has been no shortage of encouraging work in support of a robust and expanded public domain.
- The Internet Archive announced this year a massive trove of over 1,000,000 mostly public domain content available for download over Bittorrent. In similar fashion, video archivist Rick Prelinger pointed us toward a big collection of public domain video footage.
- Musopen continues to be a promising project initially dedicated to providing copyright free music content: music recordings, sheet music and a music textbook.
- There’s ongoing efforts to educate the public about the public domain. The Public Domain Review published the Guide to Finding Interesting Public Domain Works Online, and P2PU is working on developing the Public Domain Detective course.
- At the international policy arena, the public domain continues to be a topic on the agenda at venues like WIPO, where there have been discussions about how to support access to the public domain. The Communia Association has been at the forefront in championing support for broad access to public domain materials, and has been urging policymakers around the world to adopt liberal policies promoting wide access to public domain content. Communia–of which CC has been a longtime member–has been a key participant to these conversations at WIPO. CC has also been involved.
- Communia published “The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture” as well as a comprehensive report detailing the efforts of the group during the three years it operated as the European Thematic Network on the Digital Public Domain.
- Creative Commons continues to offer tools in support of the public domain. These include the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, which is a tool for authors to waive all copyright and related rights, thus putting their work in the public domain prior to the expiration of copyright. This is a crucial tool in use around the world for high profile projects. In September of this year, Europeana released 20 million records into the public domain using CC0. This release is the largest one-time dedication of cultural data to the public domain using CC0, and the dataset consists of descriptive information from a huge trove of digitized cultural and artistic works. In addition, the Public Domain Mark is used to mark works already in the worldwide public domain, such as for very old works where it is clear that the copyright has already expired.
- In fact, more libraries are releasing metadata under CC0, and public domain may become the norm for libraries in sharing their data.
As you can see, there’s a ton of positive work being done to help increase our access to creative content in the public domain. But the work is not done: the longer we do not have access to these works the less rich our culture will be moving ahead. Let’s keep working on it and demanding access to content that could (and should) be available to all.