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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

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!

Open bibliographic data promotes knowledge of the public domain

Jonathan Gray - April 6, 2010 in Guest post, OKF Projects, Open Data, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Open Bibliographic Data, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following guest post is from John Mark Ockerbloom, library scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and editor of The Online Books Page. He blogs at Everybody’s Libraries.

I’ve recently gotten involved with two Open Knowledge Foundation working groups, one on open bibliographic data and one on identifying public domain materials. Folks who follow my Everybody’s Libraries blog have seen me write about the importance of the public domain and open bibliographic records to the future of library services. But it’s also worth noting how the two issues complement each other.

If you want to identify the set of works that are in the public domain in your jurisdiction, for instance, you’ll need to do a lot of bibliographic research. As I describe in a 2007 paper on copyright and provenance, to determine the copyright status of a work you may need to know details about the time and place of first publication, the authors and their lifespans, the copyright notices and registrations associated with a work, and the relationship of the work to other works. Much of this data is included in bibliographic records, or can be more easily located when you have these bibliographic records in hand. And as I’ve described in detail at an ALA presentation, the more open bibliographic data is available, the easier it is for lots of different people (and programs) to analyze it. So promoting open bibliographic data also promotes knowledge of the public domain.

Going the other way, information about the public domain also helps build open bibliographic data. Over the past several years, I’ve been compiling information on copyright registrations and renewals, which in the US are very important for determining public domain status. (As has been noted previously, many books, periodicals, and images from the mid-20th century did not renew their copyrights as required and are now in the public domain in the US.) The catalog of copyright registrations is a US government work, not subject to copyright restrictions. And the catalog itself is a rich source of bibliographic data, with information on book titles, authors, and even publication details. Moreover, this data includes descriptions and identifiers not for specific editions, but for the higher-level FRBR concept of expressions, which can encompass many editions. This higher-level data is increasingly important in the newer, comprehensive catalogs that many groups (ranging from OCLC to the Open Library Project) are now developing. And there’s still more that can be done to get this copyright registration data online, or into forms that can be easily searched and analyzed.

In short, open bibliographic information and copyright information reinforce each other. By joining the Open Knowledge Foundation working groups on these topics, I hope to promote the synergies between them, and between people and groups working on liberating this information. If you’re interested in any of these issues, I hope you get involved as well. More information can be found on the OKFN website.

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