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The Public Domain Review brings out its first book

Adam Green - November 19, 2014 in Featured, Public Domain Review

Open Knowledge project The Public Domain Review is very proud to announce the launch of its very first book! Released through the newly born spin-off project the PDR Press, the book is a selection of weird and wonderful essays from the project’s first three years, and shall be (we hope) the first of an annual series showcasing in print form essays from the year gone by. Given that there’s three years to catch up on, the inaugural incarnation is a special bumper edition, coming in at a healthy 346 pages, and jam-packed with 146 illustrations, more than half of which are newly sourced especially for the book.

Spread across six themed chapters – Animals, Bodies, Words, Worlds, Encounters and Networks – there is a total of thirty-four essays from a stellar line up of contributors, including Jack Zipes, Frank Delaney, Colin Dickey, George Prochnik, Noga Arikha, and Julian Barnes.

What’s inside? Volcanoes, coffee, talking trees, pigs on trial, painted smiles, lost Edens, the social life of geometry, a cat called Jeoffry, lepidopterous spying, monkey-eating poets, imaginary museums, a woman pregnant with rabbits, an invented language drowning in umlauts, a disgruntled Proust, frustrated Flaubert… and much much more.

Order by 26th November to benefit from a special reduced price and delivery in time for Christmas.

If you are wanting to get the book in time for Christmas (and we do think it is a fine addition to any Christmas list!), then please make sure to order before midnight (PST) on 26th November. Orders place before this date will also benefit from a special reduced price!

Please visit the dedicated page on The Public Domain Review site to learn more and also buy the book!

The Public Domain “Class of 2014″

Adam Green - December 12, 2013 in Public Domain, Public Domain Review

This is a cross-post from The Public Domain Review, a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation.


Top Row (left to right): George Washington Carver; Sergei Rachmaninoff; Shaul Tchernichovsky
Middle Row (left to right): Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Nikola Tesla; Kostis Palamas; Max Wertheimer
Bottom Row (left to right): Simone Weil; Chaim Soutine; Fats Waller; Beatrix Potter



Pictured above is our top pick of people whose works will, on 1st January 2014, be entering the public domain in those countries with a ‘life plus 70 years’ copyright term (e.g. most European Union members, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, etc.). As usual it’s an eclectic bunch who have assembled for our graduation photo – including two very different geniuses of the piano, a French mystic, the creator of Peter Rabbit, one of the 20th century’s most important inventors, a poet who penned the Olympic Hymn, and a man known as the “Black Leonardo” who pretty much single-handedly created the peanut industry. The unifying factor bringing them all together is that all died in the year of 1943, and so their works, in many places, will be given a new lease of life as they pass into the public domain.

Below is a little bit more about each of their lives (with each name linking through to their respective Wikipedia pages, from which each text has been based).



BEATRIX POTTER


Beatrix Potter (28th July 1866 – 22nd December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit. As a young woman Potter developed a keen interest in drawing, in particular animals, real and imagined, and also insects, fossils, archaeological artefacts, and fungi – and would often fill letters to friends with illustrations. In September 1893, at the age of 27, Potter was on holiday in Perthshire and, running out of things to say in a letter to the ill son of her former governess, she told him a story about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” It became one of the most famous children’s letters ever written and the basis of Potter’s future career as a writer-artist-storyteller. Eight years later Potter published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first privately in 1901, and a year later as a small, three-colour illustrated book with Frederick Warne & Co. It would be the first of a series of twenty three extremely popular “tales” involving the exploits of various anthropomorphised animals who lived in the English countryside. Potter was also a great conservationist and with the proceeds from the books and a legacy from an aunt, she purchased a whole series of farms in the lake District in order to preserve the unique hill country landscape. When she died on 22 December 1943 at her home in Near Sawrey at age 77, she left almost all her property to the National Trust. She is credited with preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park.


SERGEI RACHMANINOFF


Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (1st April 1873 – 28th March 1943) was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music. Early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other Russian composers gave way to a personal style notable for its song-like melodicism, expressiveness and his use of rich orchestral colors. The piano is featured prominently in Rachmaninoff’s compositional output, and through his own skills as a performer, helped by his enormous hands, he made huge steps in exploring the expressive possibilities of the instrument.


FATS WALLER


Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller (21st May 1904 – 15th December 1943) was an influential jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer, and comedic entertainer, whose innovations to the Harlem stride style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano, and whose best-known compositions, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame posthumously, in 1984 and 1999. Waller was one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe. He was also a prolific songwriter and many songs he wrote or co-wrote are still popular, such as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Squeeze Me”. Fellow pianist and composer Oscar Levant dubbed Waller “the black Horowitz”. Waller composed many novelty tunes in the 1920s and 1930s and sold them for relatively small sums. When the compositions became hits, other songwriters claimed them as their own. Many standards are alternatively and sometimes controversially attributed to Waller. In one now legendary story, Waller was kidnapped in Chicago leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by the mobster Al Capone. Waller was ordered inside the building, and found a party in full swing. Gun to his back, he was pushed towards a piano, and told to play. A terrified Waller realised he was the “surprise guest” at Capone’s birthday party. According to rumour, Waller played for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash from Capone and other party-goers as tips.


NIKOLA TESLA


Nikola Tesla (10th July 1856 – 7th January 1943) was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before emigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla as a consultant to help develop a power system using alternating current. Tesla is also known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs which included patented devices and theoretical work used in the invention of radio communication, for his X-ray experiments, and for his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project. Tesla’s achievements and his abilities as a showman demonstrating his seemingly miraculous inventions made him world-famous and gained him a reputation as an archetypical “mad scientist”.


CHAIM SOUTINE


Chaïm Soutine (13th January 1893 – 9th August 1943) was a French painter of Belarusian Jewish origin who made a major contribution to the expressionist movement while living in Paris. Inspired by classic painting in the European tradition, exemplified by the works of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet, Soutine developed an individual style more concerned with shape, color, and texture over representation, which served as a bridge between more traditional approaches and the developing form of Abstract Expressionism. He once horrified his neighbours by keeping an animal carcass in his studio so that he could paint it (Carcass of Beef). The stench drove them to send for the police, whom Soutine promptly lectured on the relative importance of art over hygiene. There’s a story that Marc Chagall saw the blood from the carcass leak out onto the corridor outside Soutine’s room, and rushed out screaming, ‘Someone has killed Soutine.’ Soutine painted 10 works in this series, which have since become his most well-known. His carcass paintings were inspired by Rembrandt’s still life of the same subject, which he discovered while studying the Old Masters in the Louvre. In February 2006, the oil painting from this series called ‘Le Boeuf Écorché’ (1924) sold for a record £7.8 million ($13.8 million) to an anonymous buyer at a Christie’s auction held in London – after it was estimated to fetch £4.8 million.


SIMONE WEIL


Simone Weil (3rd February 1909 – 24th August 1943) was a French philosopher, Christian mystic, and political activist. Weil’s life was marked by an exceptional compassion for the suffering of others; at the age of six, for instance, she refused to eat sugar after she heard that soldiers fighting in World War I had to go without. After her graduation from formal education, Weil became a teacher. She taught intermittently throughout the 1930s, taking several breaks due to poor health and to devote herself to political activism, work that would see her assisting in the trade union movement, taking the side of the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, and spending more than a year working as a labourer, mostly in auto factories, so she could better understand the working class. Taking a path that was unusual among twentieth-century left-leaning intellectuals, she became more religious and inclined towards mysticism as her life progressed. Weil wrote throughout her life, though most of her writings did not attract much attention until after her death. Although sometimes described as odd, humourless, and irritating, she inspired great affection in many of those who knew her. Albert Camus described her as “the only great spirit of our times”. She died from tuberculosis during World War II, possibly exacerbated by malnutrition after refusing to eat more than the minimal rations that she believed were available to soldiers at the time.


MAX WERTHEIMER


Max Wertheimer (15th April 1880 – 12th October 1943) was a Prague-born psychologist who was, along with Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler, one of the three founders of Gestalt psychology: a theory of mind and brain which sees the brain as holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The principle maintains that the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Wertheimer is best known for his work Productive Thinking, as well as his idea of Phi Phenomenon, both important in the founding and development of Gestalt psychology.


SOPHIE TAEUBER_ARP


Sophie Taeuber-Arp (19th January 1889 – 13th January 1943) was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, and dancer. She is considered one of the most important artists of geometric abstraction of the 20th century, her textile and graphic works from around 1916 through the 1920s being among among the earliest examples of Constructivism, along with those of Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich. During this period, she was involved in the Zürich Dada movement, which centred on the Cabaret Voltaire, and she took part in Dada-inspired performances as a dancer, choreographer, and puppeteer. At the opening of the Galerie Dada in 1917, she danced to poetry by Hugo Ball wearing a shamanic mask by Marcel Janco. A year later, she was a co-signer of the Zurich Dada Manifesto. In the late 20s Taeuber-Arp moved with her husband, the Dada artist Jean Arp, to Paris. In the 30s, she became a member of the group Cercle et Carré, a standard-bearer of nonfigurative art, and its successor, the Abstraction-Création group; and in the late 1930s she founded a Constructivist review, Plastique (Plastic) in Paris. Her circle of friends included the artists Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1940, Taeuber-Arp and Arp fled Paris ahead of the Nazi occupation and moved to Grasse in Southern France, where they created an art colony with Sonia Delaunay and other artists. In 1943, during a visit to Switzerland, Taeuber-Arp died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning stove.


GEORGE WASHINGTON-CARVER


George Washington Carver (by January 1864 – 5th January 1943), was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor. The exact day and year of his birth are unknown; he is believed to have been born into slavery in Missouri in January 1864. Carver’s reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes, which also aided nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts. He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin, and hundreds of more uses for soybeans and sweet potatoes. During the Reconstruction-era South, monoculture of cotton depleted the soil in many areas and in the early 20th century the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop, and planters and farm workers suffered. Carver’s work on peanuts was intended to provide an alternative crop and was vital for the rejuvenation of the blighted region. He received numerous honours for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a “Black Leonardo”. Two years later he died after taking a fall: on his grave was written, He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.


SHAUL TCHERNICHOVSKY


Shaul Tchernichovsky (20th August 1875 – 14th October 1943) was a Russian-born Hebrew poet, considered one of the great poets of the Hebrew language. Born into a small village in the Crimea (now part of Ukraine), he published his first poems in Odessa where he studied from 1890 to 1892. From 1899 to 1906 he studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, finishing his medical studies in Lausanne. From then on, he mingled his activities as a doctor with his activities as a poet. After completing his studies he returned to Ukraine to practice in Kharkov and in Kiev and then served in the First World War as an army doctor in Minsk and in Saint Petersburg. From 1925 to 1932 he was one of the editors of the newspaper Hatekufa and in 1931 immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine where he settled permanently. Besides being a poet, Tchernichovsky was known as an excellent translator. His translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey particularly earned recognition. He also translated Sophocles, Horace, Shakespeare, Molière, Pushkin, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Shelley, the Kalevala, the Gilgamesh Cycle, the Icelandic Edda, etc. He was also a friend of the distinguished Klausner family of Jerusalem, including the child who would grow up to become the novelist Amos Oz, to whom he was known as “Uncle Shaul.”


KOSTIS PALAMAS


Kostis Palamas (13th January 1859 – 27th February 1943) was a Greek poet who wrote the words to the Olympic Hymn. He was a central figure of the Greek literary generation of the 1880s and one of the cofounders of the so-called New Athenian School (or Palamian School, or Second Athenian School) along with Georgios Drosinis, Nikos Kampas, Ioanis Polemis. He has been informally called the “national” poet of Greece and was closely associated with the struggle to rid Modern Greece of the “purist” language and with political liberalism. He dominated literary life for 30 or more years and greatly influenced the entire political-intellectual climate of his time. Romain Rolland considered him the greatest poet of Europe and he was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature but never received it. His most important poem, “The Twelve Lays of the Gypsy” (1907), is a poetical and philosophical journey. His “Gypsy” is a free-thinking, intellectual rebel, a Greek Gypsy in a post-classical, post-Byzantine Greek world, an explorer of work, love, art, country, history, religion and science, keenly aware of his roots and of the contradictions between his classical and Christian heritages.



And a few others that didn’t make it to the class photo….

Frida Uhl, Stephen Haggard, John Harvey Kellog , Pieter Cornelis Boutens, Stephen Vincent Benét, Oskar Schlemmer , Jovan Dučić , Geoffrey Shaw, Franz Oppenheimer, Max Reinhardt, Robert Antoine Pinchon,

Some people you think we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comments!



Class of 2014 for those countries with a ‘life plus 50 years’ copyright term


There is also of course a Class of 2014 for those countries with a ‘life plus 50 years’ copyright term – including Canada, many countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. Some might argue that they’ve got an even more impressive line up! Their list of all-star graduates include:

Robert Frost

Sylvia Plath

William Carlos Williams

Louis MacNeice

Jean Cocteau

C. S. Lewis

Aldous Huxley





To learn more about Public Domain Day visit publicdomainday.org. For more names whose works will be going into the public domain in 2014 see the Wikipedia page on 1943 deaths , 1963 deaths, and this great page dedicated to the public domain in 2014.

We also came across this great public domain advent calendar project (in French).

Wondering what published works will enter the public domain in the U.S.? …Nothing.

Wondering if “bad things happen to works when they enter the public domain”? Wonder no more.

(Learn more about the situation in the U.S. and why the public domain is important in this article in Huff Post Books and this from the Duke Law School’s Centre for the Study of the Public Domain).



Announcing the Launch of The Public Domain Review Store

Adam Green - November 12, 2013 in Featured, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

We are very excited to announce the birth of The Public Domain Review Store! To help raise some much needed funds for the project we have made some things to sell, returning a few select gems from a pixel-based existence back into the world of real physical objects from whence they once came. As well as a variety of beautiful straight up prints, we have also designed some special Public Domain Review branded items through which you can profess your love and support of our project to the outside world. Because we have readers from all over the world, and sadly not the time nor resources to set up a merchandise empire, complete with stock-rooms and fleets of packing minions, we have – at least for now – set up a modest store through the print on demand service Zazzle. As well as these print on demand products, we also plan on working with designers and artists to make more “intimately” made objects – such as the wonderful analog GIF player from Officina K – so please do get in touch if you are interested in partnering up.

Visit the store here and start shopping!

decayeddag-poster-withURL-200dpi-SMALL

New Sources and Rights section on The Public Domain Review

Adam Green - August 29, 2013 in Featured, Open GLAM, Public Domain Review

Today sees the announcement of two exciting new developments on The Public Domain Review, changes which centre on better celebrating those institutions which have decided to open up their collections and helping users understand the different rights for reuse that apply to the content.

New sources section

The new sources page – http://publicdomainreview.org/sources/ – lists the major sources for material found on The Public Domain Review: both online content aggregators (websites which bring together into one place digital copies from disparate sources) and the content providers themselves (the institutions who will often hold the physical object from which the digital copy has been made).

This list is intended to be at once a celebration of the sources we use in the creation of The Public Domain Review and also a mapping of the current landscape of openly licensed collections, a map which we hope will encourage users to explore these wonderful sources for themselves. We also hope that by highlighting the wealth of institutions that have already opened up their public domain collections, those institutions that have not yet opened up might be encouraged to do so.

Each institution has its own dedicated page which lists their content featured on our site.

New attribution feature and accompanying rights and re-use section

Each collection post on The Public Domain Review now has an accompanying table clearly stating: 1) the source form which the material derives 2) if relevant, a hat-tip to any person or website through which we found the material 3) download links, and 4) information regarding rights and re-use of both the underlying work and the digital copy which we are presenting.

To accompany the “rights and re-use” part of this new feature we have a dedicated page “Rights labelling on our site” which functions to explain some of the terms encountered and, in general, give a helpful overview of the landscape regarding the complex world of rights and re-use relating to public domain works and their digital copies.

We hope that these changes will help give the recognition deserved to the institutions that have taken the bold step of openly licensing their collections, and also that those who appreciate the fruits of this labor will, with more transparency regarding rights, feel more empowered to share and re-use it. If you’re interested in issues around open licensing of cultural content and want to help us build a cultural commons for everyone to use and enjoy, visit OpenGLAM.org.



Announcing a new series, “Curator’s Choice”

Adam Green - July 3, 2013 in Featured, Open GLAM, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

This week sees the launch of the “Curator’s Choice” series – a joint endeavour of The Public Domain Review and OpenGLAM – which aims to actively engage with and celebrate those cultural heritage institutions that have taken the exciting steps to open up their content.

This new series shall consist of a monthly guest post from a gallery, library, archive or museum curator reflecting upon a group of works in one of their open digital collections – that is, public domain material which has had no restrictions placed on it as it’s been digitised and made available online. This new series aims to be a celebratory spotlight on both the institutions making the exciting steps of openly licensing their digital collections and also the curators that work everyday with such collections – as well, of course, as being a celebration of the content itself.

The series shall be housed on both The Public Domain Review and the OpenGLAM website.

The inaugural post is from the British Library’s Phil Hatfield and Andrew Gray who take a look at the fascinating array of photographs in the British Library’s Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection – see it here on The Public Domain Review and here on OpenGLAM.

Here’s a sneak preview of just a few of the gems from the collection.

‘The Wrestlers’, deposited in 1905 by R. H. Trueman [copyright number 15767]. We all hope the bear was trained… – Source

Part of a series of stereoscopic photographs telling the story of Mr. Turtledove’s fancy for the French cook. Deposited in 1906 by Arthur Lawrence Merrill [copyright number 17212] – Source

Part of a photographic series on performing animals, deposited by John A. Brown in 1920 – Source

Next month’s piece shall be from the Rijksmuseum. You can follow new additions to the series through this RSS feed.



The Public Domain Review is Saved!

Adam Green - May 2, 2013 in OKF Projects, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

At 12:00pm BST today, as midnight struck over the Pacific island of American Samoa and the 1st of May truly ended all over the world, so did end the inaugural Public Domain Review Fundraiser. In 58 days, with the help of 676 wonderful supporters we managed to leapfrog our target of $20,000 and raise an amazing $22,070, ca. £14200 / €16,800. Thank you all so much, we’ve been really blown away by your amazing generosity.

We saw donations come in from all over the world, and the Tote Bags have been sent out to homes far and wide across 6 of the 7 continents on the planet (still missing that ever elusive Antarctica). There weren’t just offers of monetary support – a few people also pledged their skills and time. We’ve had a very kind offer to build a PDR App for Android which is currently in progress, and also a printmaker interested in partnering up to do some prints for us using an old Victorian letterpress. There are also other interesting collaborations currently being discussed – all to be revealed soon!

We have lots of really exciting things lined up for the future, and thanks to all the incredible generosity we’ve seen we can them happen. Amongst others, we have coming soon a brand new monthly feature – “Guest Curator of the Month” – in which an invited curator shall do a guest post focusing on works in their institutions openly licensed digital collections: the British Library, Rijksmuseum and others are onboard already. In addition to improving the website with new features like these, part of the work we’ll also be doing is, of course, trying to secure additional funding which we’ll be very much focusing on over the next few months.

All in all, very exciting times ahead. And, again, a huge thank you to all who donated!

And in case you missed it, here’s the super-extended version of the fundraising film: aptly retitled “SAVED!” and with a new happy ending!


Just 5 days to go for The Public Domain Review Fundraiser!

Adam Green - April 25, 2013 in Featured, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

The Public Domain Review Fundraiser ends on Wednesday 1st May, just 5 days away!

Since we launched the fundraising campaign 7 weeks ago we’ve seen a fantastic response which has got us so far to an amazing 98% of our target… very very nearly there. We are making a final push in these remaining days to make these last few hundred dollars, and we hope maybe also make a substantial leap past our goal!

If you haven’t donated yet but you’d like to be part of the amazing drive we are seeing to keep the project alive, then wait no longer! The time has come.

To learn more about the campaign and make your donation visit:

http://publicdomainreview.org/support/

And remember that if you donate $40 or more you’ll have the opportunity to be receive our beautiful Public Domain Review Tote Bag!

Please also continue to spread the word as much as you can!


Donate now to keep The Public Domain Review alive

Theodora Middleton - March 6, 2013 in Featured, Public Domain Review

Our beautiful showcase for public domain works, The Public Domain Review, has just launched its major fundraising drive. It needs your help to stay alive. Here’s a delightful film telling the tale of our cash-strapped editor’s struggle to keep afloat – share it far and wide!

With the initial funding for The Public Domain Review now come to an end, we need your support to help us continue our mission – to promote the public domain as an indispensable public good, and to curate and showcase the most interesting out-of-copyright works on the web.

The Public Domain Review has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2011. Over the course of our two years we’ve created a large and ever growing archive of some of the most interesting and unusual artefacts in the history of art, literature and ideas – from Gerard Manley Hopkins’s soaring meteorology of volcano sunsets, to 19th century French postcards of the year 2000; from Thomas Browne’s list of imaginary artefacts, to Napoleon’s Book of Fate.

As well as surfacing public domain rarities and curiosities from the world’s archives, we’ve provided a platform for leading writers, scholars and curators to show the things that they love to new audiences. Highlights of the last year include an article by Man Booker prize winner Julian Barnes, copious praise from lots of our favourite people and projects, and mentions in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Paris Review and Vice magazine.

But to carry the project on into the future we need money, and so we’re turning to our community for help. With your support we can continue to tell the world about the importance of the public domain, and help to bring its most exquisite and unusual spoils to more people than ever.

How much do we need?

We’ve worked out that a sum of $20,000 will enable us to continue on into 2014. We are growing apace and the more and more people we have enjoying what we do, the easier it is going to be to carry on in the future. We need support now to break through to this next stage.

The Tote bag!

With a little help from 17th century astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist and occult philosopher Robert Fludd, we have designed our very first piece of Public Domain Review merchandise – a rather wonderful tote bag! The picture is from Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi and, with its eclectic variety of disciplines depicted, it’s an image we feel represents the richness and variety of the public domain, that vast cultural commons which we are trying to open the door onto with our project. As a token of our gratitude we’ll be sending a bag free to every person who donates more than $40 (ca. €30 / £26).

To learn more about the fundraising campaign please visit: publicdomainreview.org/support

or, if you’d like, simply go straight to the donation form:

Many thanks for your support at this critical time

Vice Italy interview with the editor of the Public Domain Review

Theodora Middleton - January 28, 2013 in Interviews, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

The editor of The Public Domain Review, Adam Green, recently gave a feature-length interview to Vice magazine Italy. You can find the original in Italian here, and an English version below!

While there is a wealth of copyright-free material available online, The Public Domain Review is carving out a niche as strongly curated website with a strong editorial line. How did the PDR begin?

Myself and The Public Domain Review’s other co-founder, Jonathan Gray, have long been into digging around in the these huge online archives of digitised material – places like the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons – mostly to find things with which to make collages. We started a little blog called Pingere to share some of the more unusual and compelling things that we stumbled across. Jonathan suggested that we turned this into a bigger project aiming to celebrate and showcase the wonderfulness of this public domain material that was out there. We took the idea to the Open Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit which promotes open access to knowledge in a variety of fields, and they helped us to secure some initial seed funding for the project. And so the Public Domain Review was born.

What was the first article you posted?

We initially focused on things which were just coming into the public domain that year. In many countries works enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author or artist – although there are lots of weird rules and exceptions (often unnecessarily complicated!). Anyway, 2011 saw the works of Nathaniel West enter the public domain, including his most famous book Day of the Locusts. The first article was about that, and West’s relationship with Hollywood, written by Marion Meade who’d recently published a book on the subject.

What criteria do you use to choose stuff for the Review?

As the name suggests, all our content is in the ‘public domain’, so that is the first criterion. We try to focus on works that are in the public domain in most countries, which isn’t as easy as it sounds as every country has different rules. Generally it means stuff created by people who passed away before the early 1940s. The second criterion is that there are no restrictions on the reuse of the digital copies of the public domain material.

What kind of restrictions?

Well, some countries say that in order to qualify for copyright digital reproductions have to demonstrate some minimal degree of originality, and others say that there just needs to be demonstrable investment in the digitisation (the so-called “sweat of the brow” doctrine). Many big players in the world of digitisation – like Google, Microsoft, the Bridgeman Art Library, and national institutions – argue that they own rights in their digital reproductions of works that have entered the public domain, perhaps so they can sell or restrict access to them later down the line. We showcase material from institutions who have already decided to openly license their digitisations. We are also working behind the scenes to encourage more institutions to do the same and see free and open access to their holdings as part of their public mission.

But you have a strong aesthetic line as well, don’t you?

Yes of course, the material has to be interesting! We tend to go for stuff which is less well known, so rather than put up all the works of Charles Dickens (as great as they are) we’ll go instead for something toward the more unorthodox end of the cultural spectrum, e.g. a personal oracle book belonging to Napoleon, or a 19th century attempt to mathematically model human consciousness through geometric forms. I guess a sort of alternative history to the mainstream narrative, an attempt to showcase just some of the excellence and strangeness of human ideas and activity which exist ‘inbetween’ these bigger events and works about which the narrative of history is normally woven.

Is there anything you wouldn’t publish?

I guess there is some material which is perhaps a little too controversial for the virtuous pages of the PDR – such as the racier work of Thomas Rowlandson or some of the less family friendly works of the 16th century Italian printmaker Agostino Carracci. Our most risque thing to date is probably a collection of some of Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘animal locomotion’ portfolio, which included a spot of naked tennis.

It seems that authors are becoming less and less important, publishers are facing extinction, and yet the potential for users of content is ever-expanding. What do you think about the future of publishing?

It is certainly true that things are radically changing in the publishing world. Before the advent of digital technologies, publishers were essentially gatekeepers of what words were seen in the public sphere. You saw words in books and newspapers and – for many people – that was pretty much it. What you saw was the result of decisions made by a handful of people. But now this has changed. People don’t need publishing contracts to get their words seen. Words, pictures and audiovisual material can be shared and spread at virtually no cost with just a few clicks. But people still do want to read words in books. And they turn to publishers – through bookshops, the media, etc – to find new things to read. While there is DIY print-on-demand publishing, it is hard to compete with the PR and promotion of professional publishers. I don’t think publishers will become extinct. No doubt they will adapt to new markets in search for profits.

Is the internet causing works to become more detached from their authors? Is there a way in which this could be a good thing?

With the rise of digital technologies it is, no doubt, much easier for this detachment to happen. Words leave the confines of books and articles, get copied and pasted into blogs, websites and social media, are shared through illegal downloads, etc, perhaps losing proper attribution along the way. But in a way none of this is new. It is just a more accelerated version of what has happened for hundreds of years. If anything it is probably better for authors now than it was with the past – as the internet also enables people to try to check where things come from, their pedigree and provenance. In the 17th century, before there was a proper copyright law, it was common for whole books to be “stolen”, given a new title and cover, and be sold under a new author’s name.

Could this be a good thing? Well, one could argue that reuse and reworking are an essential part of the creative process. We can find brilliant examples of literary pastiche and collaging techniques in the works of writers like W.G. Sebald, where you are not sure whether he’s speaking with his own words or that of another writer (whose work he is discussing). In Sebald’s case it gives the whole piece a fluency and unity, a sense that its one voice, of humanity or history speaking. But of course Sebald’s work is protected by copyright held by his publishers or his literary estate. One wonders whether one could use his works in the same way and get away with it.

So is copyright a big negative?

No not at all – from the perspective of artists/writers copyrighting their work, in general it makes complete sense to me. This is not just about money but also about artistic control over how a work is delivered. Looking back to the past before copyright – it wasn’t just about royalties but also about reputation, about preventing or discouraging mischievous or sloppy reuse. While copyright is far from perfect – and often pretty flawed – it still offers creators a basic level of protection for the things that they have created. As an author or artist if you want something more flexible than your standard copyright license then you can combine it with things like Creative Commons licenses to say how you want others to be able to use your works.

The question of how long (or whether!) works should be copyrighted after the death of creators is an entirely different question. I think copyright laws and international agreements are currently massively skewed in favour of big publishers and record companies (often supported by well heeled lobbyist groups purporting to serve the neglected interests of famous authors and aging rock stars), and do not take sufficient account of the public domain as a positive social good: a cultural commons, free for everyone.

Have you ever had problems with a copyright claim from an author?

Well almost all of the public domain material we feature is by people who are long dead, so we haven’t (thank god!) had any direct complaints from them. We did get one take down notice on Gurideff’s Harmonium Recordings. The law can get very complex, particularly around films and sound recordings. I am not sure they were right, but we took it down all the same.

What are your plans for the future?

As well as expansion of the site with exciting new features we are also planning to break out from the internet into the real world of objects! We’re planning to produce some beautiful printed volumes with collections of images and texts curated around certain themes. We’ve wanted to do this for a while, and hopefully we’ll have time (and funds!) to finally do this next year.

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Season’s Greetings from the Open Knowledge Foundation!

Jonathan Gray - December 24, 2012 in Public Domain, Public Domain Review

To celebrate the season our Public Domain Review project has put together a digest of festive public domain images and texts – including a selection of Christmas diary entries, a pictorial history of Santa Claus, and a beautiful book of snowflake illustrations.

From all of us at the Open Knowledge Foundation, we wish you festive cheer, a peaceful break and a happy 2013.

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