How can we promote the public domain?

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

A few weeks back we ran a small workshop in Berlin for Public Domain Day 2011. It was attended by a mix of artists, scholars, legal experts, technologists, and passers by.

We started out with a general conversation in which the following kinds of questions were asked:

  • What is the public domain?
  • How do I know whether or not a given work is in the public domain?
  • I’m often interested in incorporating existing works into new designs, how can I know what I am (and what I’m not) allowed to reuse?
  • Where can I find work X, which I believe to be in the public domain?
  • Where can I find archives of video material which has entered the public domain?

We then brainstormed about the kinds of things that people were keen to do on the day, which included talking and learning more about laws and policies related to the public domain, going through archives to look for interesting works which just entered the public domain in 2011, and making things using public domain works.

There was strong demand for reviewing and discussing legal and policy issues related to the public domain first, so we ran through what the public domain is, how one can determine the copyright status of a work, and work on the Public Domain Calculators.

We soon decided that there was need for a clearer page with information along these lines, so we set up the following two sites:

We’re going to be continuing to improve this site over the next few weeks (it will be an ongoing work in progress), so if you have any suggestions for things to add, please let us know in the comments below, or sign up to our pd-discuss list and say hello!

More generally over the coming months we’re going to be spending more time on the Public Domain Calculators, on PublicDomainWorks.net , and will be starting to have regular online meetings for people interested in the public domain. We’d also like to help to provide a more central source of information about different (open!) online sources of works which have entered the public domain. And we’re working on exposing open bibliographic metadata so we can combine this with the calculators to get a better idea of what is in the public domain in different countries.

What do you think that the OKF can do to help to promote the public domain or make it easier to find and reuse public domain works? Is there anything that you think would be really useful but that hasn’t yet been done?

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