Last night Aurélie Filippetti, the French Minister for Culture and Communication, announced a new partnership between the French ministry of Culture and Communication and the Open Knowledge Foundation France to take steps towards mapping the public domain in France.

The ‘public domain calculator’ demonstrator project will develop a tool to help establish legal status of cultural works – in particular helping users to determine whether or not they have passed out of copyright and into the public domain. You can watch a video about the partnership here (in French, with English translation coming soon).

In her speech, Minister Filippetti said:

We often say that a work has “fallen” into the public domain, as though it falls into a state of disuse, abandonment or oblivion. In fact, precisely the opposite is true. When a work enters the public domain, it experiences a rebirth. And I want to show that my department recognises this. Therefore, to support our thinking in this area, we have formed a partnership with Open Knowledge Foundation France to develop a prototype of a French public domain calculator using a set of cultural metadata (in this case a selection of metadata about works from the Great War) provided by the National Library of France.

French Minister for Culture and Communication Aurélie Filippetti announcing the partnership between the ministry and Open Knowledge Foundation France.

The announcement was made at a reception at the end of an event on ‘the transmission of culture in the digital age’, which included talks about the value and potential of the digital public domain and open data from cultural institutions.

I gave a keynote talk about the Open Knowledge Foundation’s work on mapping the cultural commons with the public domain calculators, as well as other related initiatives such as OpenGLAM and The Public Domain Review.

Results were presented from a recent ‘mashup workshop’ to encourage creative reuse of public domain works, run by the ministry in partnership with Open Knowledge Foundation France, Wikimedia France and others.

There were also talks from the Rijksmuseum and the British Library about what they are doing to publish and encourage the reuse of open data and open digital copies of public domain works.

Overall the day made clear that the Digital Policy Department at the French ministry of Culture and Communication, under the leadership of Camille Domange, have taken the decision to put the digital commons high up on their agenda.

It is very encouraging to see such strong government recognition of the value of the public domain as an indispensable public good. We applaud France’s leadership in this area, and hope this will inspire other countries to do more to enable the digital public domain to flourish and to take steps to support its reuse for the benefit of citizens – whether for education, creativity, or enjoyment.

If you’re interested in helping to establish a vibrant and open digital public domain in your country, please come and introduce yourself on our Public Domain Working Group.

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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 and he tweets at @jwyg.