I’ve recently been thinking about the role the Open Knowledge Foundation can play in helping to open up the public domain.
Ultimately I think we should help to rally existing stakeholders from around the world behind a simple vision, and encourage them to work together to realise it.
At its simplest this vision is:
We want to make it easier for everyone to find and reuse works which are in the public domain.
Adorning my ‘Massively Ambitious’ hat, this has two main parts:
- Gathering open information (‘metadata’) about every public domain work in the world – including books, recordings, films, paintings, photographs, and so on. In practise this means opening up existing collections of metadata from galleries, libraries, archives and museums – and combining this with information from other sources (e.g. DBpedia, crowdsourced data) to make sure it is complete and accurate.
- Publishing an open digital copy of every public domain work in the world. Which means encouraging existing publishers to publish digital copies of works in a way which means that everyone is free to reuse them (i.e. trying to discourage copyfraud and legal/technical restrictions on reuse).
To pursue these things I would propose that the Open Knowledge Foundation should:
- Start a high-profile campaign to encourage institutions to open up their metadata + digital copies of public domain works in the right way. Getting sign on from prominent stakeholders in this area (e.g. Creative Commons, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Foundation, exemplary institutions, etc). I’ve started discussing this with various people already – including the idea of 1-2 short animations to promote open metadata and open digital copies of works!
- Create a ‘proof of concept’ project to show users what we want to do, and to encourage stakeholders to collaborate towards building this. Like an all-singing, all-dancing, elegant, beautiful and feature-heavy version of PublicDomainWorks.net. Less focused on hard-core data integration/exposure, and more focused on interesting and useful front-end features for ordinary users (e.g. lets me create a library of my favourite books, a list of my favourite paintings, get material from multiple sources, etc). Ultimately we need to build shared infrastructure for the discovery of public domain works – that brings together and builds on the amazing collections and services that are already out there – from Open Library and Europeana to Project Gutenberg and Wikimedia Commons. We want open infrastructure that federates content – and allows it to be easily integrated, embedded and reused in lots of different contexts. This is a good way to demonstrate what we want to do!
- Build a stronger network of people/organisations/projects to celebrate and evangelise about the public domain – through things like the Communia Association, the Working Group on the Public Domain, Public Domain Day, The Public Domain Review, Open Shakespeare and more events, workshops and meetups!
We want to build a stronger culture of explicitly recognising the value of the public domain, and of greater collaboration to enable people use and enjoy it.
If you’re interested in any of this we’d strongly encourage you to join the conversation by introducing yourself on our pd-discuss mailing list!
Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.