Which works enter the public domain in 2011?

Jonathan Gray - October 18, 2010 in Events, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

Every year on January 1st hundreds of works enter the public domain around the world. So how do we know which works will come of age in 2011?

Like last year we are keen to get a picture of this well in advance so we can start planning celebrations for Public Domain Day 2011 (see here for our round up of the 2010 highlights!).

First off, we can get a rough idea from the data and calculators that are live on our Public Domain Works project:

We are going to be loading a lot more data (e.g. from the British Library and Cambridge University Library) into project very soon, and we also planning to update the calculation code in the light of continued work on the public domain calculators — so watch this space!

To make sure we haven’t missed anyone, we can cross-reference this with bigger lists of notable people (not just creators) who died in 1940, such as one can find on Wikipedia:

Furthermore one can use structured data sources (such as DBpedia faceted search) to do more sophisticated things such as searching for people who died in 1940 who were artists, novelists, or poets.

This gives us the following basic list of famous creators whose work will enter the public domain in 2011 (in many, but unfortunately not all, jurisdictions):

  • Isaac Babel
  • Walter Benjamin
  • John Buchan
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Emma Goldman
  • Paul Klee
  • Selma Lagerlof
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Vito Volterra
  • Nathanael West

There are some links to other potentially interesting figures listed at:

Over the following few weeks we’re going to start planning for Public Domain Day 2011. This will hopefully include the launch of a new site for reviews of public domain works:

The excellent European COMMUNIA project is also starting to plan and coordinate activities in this area, which will be collated on their Public Domain Day site!

If you are interested in doing something for Public Domain Day 2011, please add your ideas to the planning pad and/or join the discussion list at:

Related posts:

  1. Launch of the Public Domain Review to celebrate Public Domain Day 2011
  2. Which works fall into the public domain in 2010?
  3. New developments on Public Domain Works!

Interview with Hugh McGuire, Founder of Librivox.org

Jonathan Gray - October 7, 2010 in Exemplars, External, Featured Project, Interviews, Public Domain, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

Following is an interview with Hugh McGuire, Founder of the Librivox project and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on the Public Domain.



Could you tell us a bit about the project and its background? Why did you start it? When? What was the need at the time?

There were some philosophical reasons, and some practical reasons for the creation of LibriVox, which “launched” in August 2005. On the philosophical side, I was fascinated by Richard Stallman and the free software movement, both in methodology and in ethic. I was equally excited by Lessig’s work with the Creative Commons movement and the idea of protecting public domain, including projects such as Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg. Brewster Kahle’s vision at the Internet Archive of Universal Access to All Human Knowledge was another piece of the puzzle, as was Wikipedia, the most visible non-software open source project around at the time. Finally blogging and podcasting revealed the possibility that anyone could make media and deliver it to the world. It was a potent cocktail.

On the practical side, I was going on a long drive, and wanted to download some free audiobooks – there weren’t very many to be found – and it seemed to me an open source project to make some would be an exciting application of all that stuff I’d been thinking of above.

How is the project doing now? Any numbers on contributors, files, etc? Wider coverage and exposure?

It’s clicking along. We put out about 100 books a month now. Here are our latest stats:

  • Total number of projects 4342
  • Number of completed projects 3768
  • Number of completed non-English projects 551
  • Total number of languages 32
  • Number of languages with a completed work 29
  • Number of completed solo projects 1716
  • Number of readers 3975…who have completed something 3772
  • Total recorded time: 78850563 seconds, or 2 years, 182 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, and 31 seconds. Total of 78438 sections.

What are the synergies with other projects/inititatives like Project Gutenberg, Wikimedia Foundation projects, Internet Archive and suchlike?

Project Gutenberg provides the bulk of the texts we work from, and they do all the legal work to make sure the texts are in the public domain. They’ve given us some financial support over the years to pay some server costs. And they also have started hosting some of our audiobooks.

Internet Archive hosts all our audio, and when we need a legal entity to represent us – for instance when we launched our first, brief funding drive this spring – IA helps out.

We’ve never had much connection with the Wikimedia Foundation, though we’ve talked with them over the years of course.

Can users request audio versions of particular texts?

Yes, but that doesn’t guarantee that anyone will want to record them.

What are your current plans for languages other than English?

To record all public domain books in all languages in the universe.

Any interesting stories about Librivox content? Coincidences, anecdotes or interesting reuses of the material?

Eegs. Well, some LibriVox cover art was used in a Blackberry commercial. The explosion & popularity of mobile apps – iPhone/Android – built on the LibriVox catalog has been the most gratifying. And we’re starting to see new websites built on our catalog too … it’s exciting, and demonstrates the value of open APIs:

How can people help out? Are there any particular types of assistance or expertise you are currently seeking?

Mostly: reading and prooflistening.

I understand you are personally interested in open content, open data and the public domain. Do you currently have any plans for other projects in this area?

Hrm. I’m mostly focused on book publishing these days, and I’m trying do things in the publishing industry that push towards a more open approach to content.

Can you give a sense of what you hope this area will look like in the future? E.g. in ten or twenty years time? Any thoughts about the future of delivering and reusing public domain content? New opportunities?

Well one thing I would like to see is the public domain expanding again in the USA. The current approach to copyright — essentially extension after extension so that nothing new ever goes into the public domain — is very depressing. But I think the tension between this desire to keep things locked up, and the unprecedented ability to do things with books, media, data is a great debate. I have to think that in the end the value of using data & media in new ways will outwiegh the desire to create false scarcity, but there’s lots of struggle yet to make this happen, and to figure out what businesses look like in such an environment.

In short – we live in interesting times.

Related posts:

  1. Interview with European Journalism Centre on Data Driven Journalism
  2. Notes from Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain
  3. Interview with Rufus Pollock for Guardian Activate event

Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain, 7th October 2010

Jonathan Gray - October 5, 2010 in Open Data, Public Domain Works, WG Open Bibliographic Data, WG Public Domain

A brief reminder that our workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain (which we blogged about a few months ago) is taking place on Thursday 7th October. Details are as follows:

Here’s the blurb:

This one day workshop will focus on open bibliographic data and the public domain. In particular it will address questions like:

  • What is the role of freely reusable metadata about works in calculating which works are in the public domains in different jurisdictions?
  • How can we use existing sources of open data to automate the calculation of which works are in the public domain?
  • What data sharing policies in libraries and cultural heritage institutions would support automated calculation of copyright status?
  • How can we connect databases of information about public domain works with digital copies of public domain works from different sources (Wikipedia, Europeana, Project Gutenberg, …)?
  • How can we map existing sources of public domain works in different countries/languages more effectively?

The day will be very much focused on productive discussion and ‘getting things done’ — rather than presentations. Sessions will include policy discussions about public domain calculation under the auspices of Communia (a European thematic network on the digital public domain), as well as hands on coding sessions run by the Open Knowledge Foundation. The workshop is a satellite event to the 3rd Free Culture Research Conference on 8-9th October.

If you would like to participate, you can register at:

If you have ideas for things you’d like to discuss, please add them at:

To take part in discussion on these topics before and after this event, please join:

Related posts:

  1. Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain
  2. Notes from Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain
  3. Open bibliographic data promotes knowledge of the public domain

Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain

Jonathan Gray - August 17, 2010 in Bibliographica, Events, OKF Projects, Open Data, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Open Bibliographic Data, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

We are pleased to announce a one day workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain. Details are as follows:

Here’s the blurb:

This one day workshop will focus on open bibliographic data and the public domain. In particular it will address questions like:

  • What is the role of freely reusable metadata about works in calculating which works are in the public domains in different jurisdictions?
  • How can we use existing sources of open data to automate the calculation of which works are in the public domain?
  • What data sharing policies in libraries and cultural heritage institutions would support automated calculation of copyright status?
  • How can we connect databases of information about public domain works with digital copies of public domain works from different sources (Wikipedia, Europeana, Project Gutenberg, …)?
  • How can we map existing sources of public domain works in different countries/languages more effectively?

The day will be very much focused on productive discussion and ‘getting things done’ — rather than presentations. Sessions will include policy discussions about public domain calculation under the auspices of Communia (a European thematic network on the digital public domain), as well as hands on coding sessions run by the Open Knowledge Foundation. The workshop is a satellite event to the 3rd Free Culture Research Conference on 8-9th October.

If you would like to participate, you can register at:

If you have ideas for things you’d like to discuss, please add them at:

To take part in discussion on these topics before and after this event, please join:

Related posts:

  1. Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain, 7th October 2010
  2. Notes from Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain
  3. Open bibliographic data promotes knowledge of the public domain

Opening up university infrastructure data

Jonathan Gray - July 20, 2010 in External, Guest post, Open Data, Public Domain

The following guest post is from Christopher Gutteridge, Web Projects Manager at the Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), University of Southampton and member of the OKF’s Working Group on Open Bibliographic Data.

We announced on Tuesday (13th July 2010) that all the RDF made available about our school would be placed in the public domain.

Around five years ago we (The School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton) had a project to create open data of our infrastructure data. This included staff, teaching modules, research groups, seminars and projects. This year we have been overhauling the site based on what we’ve learned in the interim. We made plenty of mistakes, but that’s fine and what being a university is all about. We’ll continue to blog about what we’ve learned.

We have formally added a “CC0″ public domain license to all our infrastructure RDF data, such as staff contact details, research groups and publication lists. One reason few people took an interest in working with our data is that we didn’t explicitly say what was and wasn’t OK, and people are disinclined to build anything on top of data which they have no explicit permission to use. Most people want to instinctively preserve some rights over their data, but we can see no value in restricting what this data can be used for. Restricting commercial use is not helpful and restricting derivative works of data is non-sensical!

Here’s an Example; Someone is building a website to list academics by their research area and they use our data to add our staff to this. How does it benefit us to force them to attribute our data to us? They are already assisting us by making our staff and pages more discoverable, why would we want to provide a restriction?. If they want to build a service that compiles and republishes data they would need to track every license and that’s going to be a bother of a similar scale to the original BSD Clause 3.

Our attitude is that we’d like an attribution where convenient, but not if it’s a bother. must-attribute is a legal requirement, we say “please-attribute”. It’s our hope that this step will help other similar organisations take the same step with the confidence of not being the first to do so.

The CC0 license does not currently extend to our research publications documents (just the metadata) or to research data. It is my personal view that research funders should make it a requirement of funding that a project publishes all data produced, in open formats, along with any custom software used to produce it, or required to process it, along with the source and (ideally) the complete cvs/git/svn history. This is beyond the scope of what we’ve done recently in ECS, but the University is taking the management of research data very seriously and it is my hope that this will result in more openness.

Another mistake we have learned from is that we made a huge effort to correctly model and describe our data as semantically accurately as possible. Nobody cares enough about our data to explain to their tool what an “ECS Person” is. We’re in the process of adding in the more generic schemes like FOAF and SIOC etc. The awesome thing about the RDF format is that we can do this gently and incrementally. So now everybody is both (is rdf:type of) a ecs:Person and a foaf:Person. (example). The process of making this more generic will continue for a while, and we may eventually expire most of the extraneous ecs:xyz site-specific relationships except where no better ones exist.

The key turning point for us was when we started trying to us this data to solve our own problems. We frequently build websites for projects and research groups and these want views on staff, projects, publications etc. Currently this is done with an SQL connection to the database and we hope the postgrad running the site doesn’t make any cock-ups which result in data being made public which should not have been. We’ve never had any (major) problems with this approach, but we think that loading all our RDF data into a SPARQL server (like an SQL server, but for RDF data and connects with HTTP) is a better approach. The SPARQL server only contains information we are making public so the risks of leaks (eg. staff who’ve not given formal permission to appear on our website) is minimised. We’ve taken our first faltering steps and discovered immediately that our data sucked (well, wasn’t as useful as we’d imagined). We’d modelled it with an eye to accuracy, not usefulness, believing if you build it they will come. The process of “eating our own dogfood” rapidly revealed many typos, and poor design decisions which had not come to light in the previous 4 or 5 years!

Currently we’re also thinking about what the best “boilerplate” data is to put in each document. Again, we’re now thinking about how to make it useful to other people rather than how to accurately model things.

There’s no definitive guidance on this. I’m interested to hear from people who wish to consume data like this to tell us what they *need* to be told, rather than what we want to tell them. Currently we’ve probably got an overkilll!

cc:attributionName “University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science”
dc11:description “This rdf document contains information about a person in the Department of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton.”
dc11:title “Southampton ECS People: Professor Nigel R Shadbolt”
dc:created “2010-07-17T10:01:14Z”
rdfs:comment “This data is freely available, but you may attribute it if you wish.→→If you’re using this data, we’d love to hear about it at webmaster@ecs.soton.ac.uk.”
rdfs:label “Southampton ECS People: Professor Nigel R Shadbolt”

One field I believe should be standard which we don’t have is where to send corrections to. Some of the data.gov.uk is out of date and an instruction on how to correct it would be nice and benefit everyone.

At the same time we have started making our research publication metadata available as RDF, also CC0, via our EPrints server. It helps that I’m also lead developer for
the EPrints project! By default any site upgrading to EPrints 3.2.1 or later will get linked data being made available automatically (albeit, with an unspecified license).

Now let me tell you how open linked data can save a university time and money!

Scenario: The university cartography department provides open data in RDF form describing every building, it’s GPS coordinates and it’s ID number. (I was able to create such a file for 61 university buildings in less than an hours work. It is already freely published on maps on our website so no big deal making it available.

The university teaching support team maintain a database of learning spaces, and the features they contain (projectors, seating layout, capacity etc.) and what building each one is in. They use the same identifier (URI) for buildings as the cartography dept. but don’t even need to talk to them, as the scheme is very simple. Let’s say:
http://data.exampleuniversity.ac.uk/location/building/23

Each team undertakes to keep their bit up to date, which is basically work they were doing anyway. They source any of their systems from this data so there’s only one place to maintain it. They maintain it in whatever form works for them (SQL, raw RDF, textfile, Excel file in a shared directory!) and data.exampleuniversity.ac.uk knows how to get at this and provide it in well formed RDF.

The timetabling team wants to build a service to allow lecturers and students to search for empty rooms with certain features, near where they are now. (This is a genuine request made of our Timetable team at Southampton that they would like a solution for)

The coder tasked with this gets the list of empty rooms from the timetabling team, possibly this won’t be open data, but it still uses the same room IDs (URIs). eg. http://data.exampleuniversity.ac.uk/location/building/23/room/101

She can then mash this up with the learning-space data and the building location data to build a search to show empty rooms, filtered by required feature(s). She could even take the building you’re currently in and sort the results by distance away from you. The key thing is that she doesn’t have to recreate any existing data, and as the data is open she doesn’t need to jump through any hoops to get it. She may wish to register her use so that she’s informed of any planed outages or changes to the data she’s using but that’s about it. She has to do no additional maintenance as the data is being sourced directly from the owners. You could do all this with SQL, but this approach allows
people to use the data with confidence without having to get a bunch of senior managers to agree a business case. An academic from another university, running a conference at exampleuniversity can use the same information without having to navigate any of the politics and bureaucracy and improve their conference sites value to delegates by joining each session to it’s accurate location. If they make the conference programme into linked data (see http://programme.ecs.soton.ac.uk/ for my work in this area!) then a 3rd party could develop an iPhone app to mash up the programme & university building location datasets and help delegates navigate.

But the key thing is that making your information machine readable, discoverable and openly licensed is of most value to your own members in an organisation. It stops duplication of work and reduces time wasted trying to get a copy of data other staff maintain.

“If HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more profitable.” – Hewlett-Packard Chairman and CEO Lew Platt

I’ve been working on a mindmap to brainstorm every potential entity a university may eventually want to identify with a URI. Many of these would benefit from open data. Please contact me if you’ve got ones to add! It would be potentially useful to start recommending styles for URIs for things like rooms, courses and seminars as most of our data will be of a similar shape, and it makes things easier if we can avoid needless inconsistency!

Related posts:

  1. 8.4 Million Grant to University of Manchester to Expand Semi-Open Data Repository
  2. Opening up linguistic data at the American National Corpus
  3. Cornell University Library keeps reproductions of public domain works in the public domain

The Public Domain and the WIPO Development Agenda

Jonathan Gray - July 5, 2010 in Guest post, Public Domain, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is from Séverine Dusollier, who is a Professor in Law at the University of Namur and a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on the Public Domain. She recently completed a Scoping Study on Copyright and Related Rights and the Public Domain commissioned as part of the WIPO Development Agenda (particularly its recommendations 16 and 20). We asked her to write about her findings…

The purpose of this study was mainly to assess the role, history, and justification of the public domain in copyright, to identify its main components and the obstacles that might interfere with the access and use of the copyright-related public domain, and finally to formulate recommendations in regard to future activities on the public domain in relation to copyright that may be carried out by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The public domain has been described as including the following components:

  • The ontological public domain, composed of ideas, methods, rules, principles, style, facts, information, etc., and news of the day;
  • The subject-matter public domain, composed of non original works (and incidentally of foreign works not covered by applicable Treaties and of unfixed works in some countries);
  • The temporal public domain, composed of works whose term of protection has expired;
  • The policy public domain, composed of official texts (except for some countries)
  • The voluntary public domain, composed of works in which the author has relinquished her copyight.

Such mapping in copyright has particularly underlined the shifting boundaries of each part of the public domain due to the intervention of many legal intricacies and national oddities (e.g., the appropriation of raw data in protected databases, the impossibility to definitively determine the expiration of copyright, the legal uncertainty of the validity of copyright relinquishment).

The unclear boundaries of the public domain are one of the first concerns for its identification and availability. They also makes them ill-equipped to encounter challenges from other legal or technical mechanisms, that might interfere with the free access of use of the public domain. The study has namely surveyed some legal means of control that might subsist in public domain material, and erode its “publicness”, such as (depending in some cases of the countries): the perpetual moral right, the domaine public payant, the European protection of so-called posthumous works, property rights in the embodiment of the work, the technological measures of protection, the related rights, including the sui generis right in databases, the trademark protection. In many of such mechanisms, the study has however demonstrated that the interference was generally limited.

Beyond the public domain as legally delineated by the contours of the copyright protection, some tools have been developed to promote a better access to and free use of creative works, thereby encouraging the development of the public domain. Open licensing has played a great part: even though its subject matter is generally not within the public domain, such licensing model grants freedom of use under more flexible conditions approaching that of the public domain. Other tools have been developed to help identify, locate or collect public domain material, trying to make its functioning more efficient. Such tools come at a considerable cost, sometimes borne by individuals or non-governmental organisations, or by public institutions such as libraries or national registries. Any project to promote the public domain will have necessarily to address this cost or find ways to provide incentives for non-public actors to participate.

The last part of the study was dedicated to some propositions to protect and preserve the public domain from encroachment and erosion. Existing protection, either by case law or in some national laws, has been surveyed. But mainly, the following objectives for building a regime for the public domain has been put forward:

  • A need for certainty in identification of public domain material and ascertaining its scope;
  • A need for availability and sustainability of public domain material;
  • A need to legally guarantee that the public domain material will be protected by two key principles: the non-exclusivity (ensuring its free use) and the non-rivalry (ensuring an effective collective use and access)

To pursue these objectives, the study concludes by formulating some policy recommendations that could be undertaken at international level. Some examples of the recommendations are:

  • the voluntary relinquishment of copyright in works and dedication to the public domain should be recognised as a legitimate exercise of authorship and copyright exclusivity and be recognised in countries other than the country of origin of the work.
  • international endeavours should be devoted to developing technical or informational tools to identify the contents of the public domain, particularly as far as the duration of copyright is concerned.
  • the role of cultural heritage institutions, and mainly libraries, in the labelling, cataloguing, preserving and making available of public domain works, and the role of the legal deposit should be recognised and supported, particularly in the digital environment.
  • any extension of the scope or duration of copyright and related rights, both at international and national level, should take into account the empirical effects on the sustainability of the public domain.
  • legal means should be found to prevent the recapture of exclusivity in works that have fallen into the public domain, whether through another intellectual property right (trademark or right in databases), property rights, other legal entitlements or technical protection, if such exclusivity is similar in scope or effect to that of copyright or is detrimental to non-rivalrous or concurrent uses of the public domain work.
  • the 1996 WIPO Treaties should be amended to prohibit a technical impediment to reproduce, publicly communicate or making available a work that has fallen into the public domain.

If you would like to discuss this study — or any of the issues it touches upon — you can join the OKF’s public domain discussion list.

Related posts:

  1. Public Domain Manifesto
  2. Public Domain Calculators at Europeana
  3. Public Domain Calculators Meeting, 10-11th November 2009

The Durationator

Jonathan Gray - June 2, 2010 in Free Culture, Guest post, Legal, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following guest post is from Professor Townsend Gard and Justin A. Levy who are both at the Tulane Center for Intellectual Property Law and Culture, New Orleans, and are members of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

Durationator

The Durationator is a project based at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA that is creating a separate software tool that will also help a user determine the copyright status of any given work.  Our goal is to be able to determine the copyright status of any work in any jurisdiction in the world.  Our main focus is U.S. law, but we have an international component that looks at individual countries as well, particularly non-EU countries, as we know that the EU will be well documented fairly soon from OKFN’s work.  We have been excited about finding a community in OKFN that is interested in the public domain, and more specifically the copyright status of works.

Our team hopes that this is our last summer of intense research.  (But we won’t hold our breath as we are already finding new areas of concern).

One of our main focuses has been on developing a tool that can educate people as to the intricacies of copyright law as well as determine the actual status of any work.  As such, our vision for our software has been user based – the user looking for an answer provides the information to the software themselves which then gives them an answer.  This is one reason why we believe our system is complementary to OKFN’s – a system that gives the green light, and a system that allows a user to play with various scenarios.

We will begin the testing phase this summer, and are looking for interesting candidates/partnerships to pursue our work.  We are also starting to think about what to do with our little monster, and so further suggestions on that are also very welcome.

We have had great fun with this project and we look forward to chatting more about our great adventure into copyright and coding. We are also hosting our Second “Future of Copyright” Speaker Series at Tulane Law School next year, which we are just starting to organize. Our speakers will include Julie Cohen, Kenneth Crews, Jane Ginsberg, Jessica Litman, William Patry, and Jule Sigall.

Please take a look at durationator.com to view a two minute video explaining what the Durationator seeks to do, as well as to play with a sample path based on the “Statute of Anne,” the first modern copyright statute.  Additionally, feel free to follow us on our blog or on twitter to check in on our research status this summer!

Related posts:

  1. Public Domain Calculators at Europeana
  2. Public Domain Calculators Meeting, 10-11th November 2009
  3. Open bibliographic data promotes knowledge of the public domain

Public Domain Calculators at Europeana

Jonathan Gray - May 12, 2010 in COMMUNIA, External, Guest post, OKF, OKF Projects, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, Technical, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following guest post is from Christina Angelopoulos at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) and Maarten Zeinstra at Nederland Kennisland who are working on building a series of Public Domain Calculators as part of the Europeana project. Both are also members of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

Europeana Logo

Over the past few months the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam and Nederland Kennisland have been collaborating on the preparation of a set of six Public Domain Helper Tools as part of the EuropeanConnect project. The Tools are intended to assist Europeana data providers in the determination of whether or not a certain work or other subject matter vested with copyright or neighbouring rights (related rights) has fallen into the public domain and can therefore be freely copied or re-used, through functioning as a simple interface between the user and the often complex set of national rules governing the term of protection. The issue is of significance for Europeana, as contributing organisations will be expected to clearly mark the material in their collection as being in the public domain, through the attachment of a Europeana Public Domain Licence, whenever possible.

The Tools are based on six National Flowcharts (Decisions Trees) built by IViR on the basis of research into the duration of the protection of subject matter in which copyright or neighbouring rights subsist in six European jurisdictions (the Czech Republic, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom). By means of a series of simple yes-or-no questions, the Flowcharts are intended to guide the user through all important issues relevant to the determination of the public domain status of a given item.

Researching Copyright Law

The first step in the construction of the flowcharts was the careful study of EU Term Directive. The Directive attempts the harmonisation of rules on the term of protection of copyright and neighbouring rights across the board of EU Member States. The rules of the Directive were integrated by IViR into a set of Generic Skeleton European Flowcharts. Given the essential role that the Term Directive has played in shaping national laws on the duration of protection, these generic charts functioned as the prototype for the six National Flowcharts. An initial version of the Generic European Flowchart, as well as the National Flowcharts for the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, was put together with the help of the Open Knowledge Foundation at a Communia workshop in November 2009.

Further information necessary for the refinement of these charts as well as the assembly of the remaining four National Flowcharts was collected either through the collaboration of National Legal Experts contacted by IViR (Czech Republic, Italy and Spain) or independently through IViR’s in-house expertise (EU, France, the Netherlands and the UK).

Both the Generic European Flowcharts and the National Flowcharts have been split into two categories: one dedicated to the rules governing the duration of copyright and the sui generis database right and one dedicated to the rules governing neighbouring rights. Although this division was made for the sake of usability and in accordance with the different subject matter of these categories of rights (works of copyright and unoriginal databases on the one hand and performances, phonograms, films and broadcasts on the other), the two types of flowcharts are intended to be viewed as connected and should be applied jointly if a comprehensive conclusion as to the public domain status of an examined item is to be reached (in fact the final conclusion in each directs the user to the application of the other). This is due to the fact that, although the protected subject matter of these two categories of rights differs, they may not be entirely unrelated. For example, it does not suffice to examine whether the rights of the author of a musical work have expired; it may also be necessary to investigate whether the rights of the performer of the work or of the producer of the phonogram onto which the work has been fixated have also expired, in order to reach an accurate conclusion as to whether or not a certain item in a collection may be copied or re-used.

Legal Complexities

A variety of legal complexities surfaced during the research into the topic. Condensing the complex rules that govern the term of protection in the examined jurisdictions into a user-friendly tool presented a substantial challenge. One of the most perplexing issues was that of the first question to be asked. Rather than engage in complicated descriptions of the scope of the subject matter protected by copyright and related rights, IViR decided to avoid this can of worms. Instead, the flowchart’s starting point is provided by the question “is the work an unoriginal database?” However, this solution seems unsatisfactory and further thought is being put into an alternative approach.

Other difficult legal issues stumbled upon include the following:

  • Term of protection vis-à-vis third countries
  • Term of protection of works of joint authorship and collective works
  • The term of protection (or lack thereof) for moral rights
  • Application of new terms and transitional provisions
  • Copyright protection of critical and scientific publications and of non-original photographs
  • Copyright protection of official acts of public authorities and other works of public origins (e.g. legislative texts, political speeches, works of traditional folklore)
  • Copyright protection of translations, adaptations and typographical arrangements
  • Copyright protection of computer-generated works

On the national level, areas of uncertainty related to such matters as the British provisions on the protection of films (no distinction is made under British law between the audiovisual or cinematographic work and its first fixation, contrary to the system applied on the EU level) or exceptional extensions to the term of protection, such as that granted in France due to World Wars I and II or in the UK to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”.

Web based Public Domain Calculators

Once the Flowcharts had been prepared they were translated into code by IViR’s colleagues at Kennisland, thus resulting in the creation of the current set of six web-based Public Domain Helper Tools.

Technically the flowcharts needed to be translated into formats that computers can read. In this project Kennisland choose for an Extensible Markup Language (XML) approach for describing the questions in the flowcharts and the relations between them. The resulting XML documents are both human and computer readable. Using XML documents also allowed Kennisland to keep the decision structure separate from the actual programming language, which makes maintenance of both content and code easier.

Kennisland then needed to build an XML reader that could translate the structures and questions of these XML files into a questionnaire or apply some set of data to the available questions, so as to make the automatic calculation of large datasets possible. For the EuropeanaConnect project Kennisland developed two of these XML readers. The first translates these XML schemes into a graphical user interface tool (this can be found at EuropeanaLabs) and the second can potentially automatically determine the status of a work which resides at the Public Domain Works project mercurial depository on KnowledgeForge. Both of these applications are open source and we encourage people to download, modify and work on these tools.

It should be noted that, as part of Kennisland’s collaboration with the Open Knowledge Foundation, Kennisland is currently assisting in the development of an XML base scheme for automatic determination of the rights status of a work using bibliographic information. Unfortunately however this information alone is usually not enough for the automatic identification on a European level. This is due to the many international treaties that have accumulated over the years; rules for example change depending on whether an author is born in a country party to the Berne convention, an EU Member State or a third country.

It should of course also be noted that there is a limit to the extent to which an electronic tool can replace a case-by-case assessment of the public domain status of a copyrighted work or other protected subject matter in complicated legal situations. The Tools are accordingly accompanied by a disclaimer indicating that they cannot offer an absolute guarantee of legal certainty.

Further fine-tuning is necessary before the Helper Tools are ready to be deployed. For the moment test versions of the electronic Tools can be found here. We invite readers to try these beta tools and give us feedback on the pd-discuss list!

Note from the authors: If the whole construction process for the Flowcharts has highlighted one thing that would be the bewildering complexity of the current rules governing the term of protection for copyright and related rights. Despite the Term Directive’s attempts at creating a level playing field, national legislative idiosyncrasies are still going strong in the post-harmonisation era – a single European term of protection remains very much a chimera. The relevant rules are hardly simple on the level of the individual Member States either. In particular in countries such as the UK and France, the term of protection currently operates under confusing entanglements of rules and exceptions that make the confident calculation of the term of protection almost impossible for a copyright layperson and difficult even for experts.

PD Calculators

Generic copyright flowchart by Christina Angelopoulos. PDF version available from Public Domain Calculators wiki page

Related posts:

  1. Public Domain Calculators Meeting, 10-11th November 2009
  2. The Public Domain and the WIPO Development Agenda
  3. New microshort film on the Public Domain Calculators!