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I Have A Dream: a law for the public domain in France!

Primavera De Filippi - October 30, 2012 in Public Domain, WG Public Domain

On the 27th of October, Lionel Maurel (@Calimaq) published in his blog a long list of suggestions that would help preserve and promote the public domain in France. In view of the Ministry of Culture’s proposal to enact a new law concerning French cultural heritage, Lionel advocates for the adoption of a law that would also account for the public domain.

Musaeum Clausum, inventory of curiosities

His proposed legal reform is driven by two complementary objectives:

The first objective is defensive, give that there is a urge to protect the public domain in the digital age. The public domain has been subject to a slow erosion over the course of the last century. This is mainly due to the constant extension of the copyright term and the establishment of new rights, but not only. Public-private partnerships for the digitization of the cultural heritage is a source of concern insofar as private firms are granted exclusive rights over digitized copies. Indeed, while digitization should be an opportunity to broadly disseminate public domain works, cultural institutions (libraries, museums, archives) are increasingly affecting the integrity of the public domain by means of specific techniques intended to create new layers of rights over the digital copies of these works. For these reasons, if we want to preserve the public domain in the twenty-first century, it is essential to protect it through the law. We can no longer let this fundamental issue be exclusively dealt with by cultural institutions and the communities they belong to, since those are often ill-equipped to address the issue and might even be tempted to make profits by commodifying the public domain. The State must ensure that the public domain is preserved for the benefit of all citizens, who shall all be entitled to freely access their own cultural heritage and create new works based on prior works.

The other objective is more of an offensive one, in that it suggests a positive reform of copyright law. Thus far, the majority of reform proposals have only been concerned with the issue of piracy and the legitimacy of non-commercial file sharing. Yet, it is just as important to fight on another, complementary front, as regards the positive recognition of the public domain.

The following proposal has been inspired by several sources: Communia’s Manifesto for the public domain, the reform proposals from La Quadrature du Net, the Open Glam report on opening up data and cultural content and the report of the Committee of Wise Men on the European public-private partnerships. Interesting suggestions also came from the report recently published by the Terra Nova Foundation, which has devoted an entire section to the issue of the public domain in the digital age.

It has to be noted, however, that this proposal only concerns French legislation and is not directed towards reforming European law. Hence, it does not cover essential aspects which are crucial for the public domain – such as reducing the duration of copyright and neighboring rights – but that could only be implemented at the European level. Lionel thus proposes a list of twenty-six points for potential law reform, drawn around seven different objectives:

I) To explicitly recognize the notion of the public domain in French Intellectual Property Code

  1. Clarifying the definition of “work of authorship” by endorsing the criteria of originality and fixation directly into the law.

  2. Explicitly including the notion of “public domain” into the provision on the copyright term.

II) To simplify the public domain regime by harmonizing the terms of protection.

  1. Removing the additional term of protection to compensate for the war period.

  2. Removing the 30 years extension for authors who “died for France”

  3. Eliminating the special regime for posthumous works

  4. Simplifying the international application of copyright law

III) To limit the scope of the copyright

  1. Precluding protection for works’ titles

  2. Introducing the distinction between “useful works” and “works of art” into French law

  3. Limiting the scope of moral rights to the life of the author

  4. Preserving the public domain status of works incorporated into composite works

  5. Keeping public domain works freely reusable in the case of simple reprints

  6. Establishing a “three-step test in reverse” to prevent future infringements of the public domain

IV) To prevent attempts to the integrity of the public domain

  1. Ensuring that the faithful reproduction of two-dimensional works in the public domain are also in the public domain

  2. Preventing the commodification of the public domain as a result of the sui-generis rights on databases.

  3. Precluding limitations on the reuse of public domain works according to the French law on public sector information.

  4. Avoiding confusion between the public domain within the meaning of intellectual property and the public domain in the sense of public property.

  5. Prohibiting the use of contractual means to limit the reuse of public domain works.

  6. Prohibiting the use of DRM to constrain the reuse of public domain works.

  7. Dissuade cultural institutions from preventing the reproductions of public domain works

V) To strictly regulate public-private partnerships for the digitization of the public domain

  1. Limiting the exclusive rights granted to private partners and introducing the recommendations of the European Committee of Wise Men into French law

VI) To expand the public domain with recent works

  1. Facilitating the voluntary donation of works in the public domain by their authors

  2. Ensuring that all works produced by public officials in the exercise of their mission automatically enter the public domain

VII) To create mechanisms to further enact the public domain

  1. Establishing penalties for infringements on the integrity of the public domain

  2. Encouraging the CADA to provide advices on the reuse of public domain works

  3. Creating a national registry of public domain works

  4. Ensuring that metadata concerning public domain works are also in the public domain

A more detailed analysis of these points can be found here (only for french speakers).

Lionel concludes with a dream: “that France, the country of Beaumarchais and the patrie of author’s rights, also becomes the first country to pass a law for the public domain!”

We hope that these propositions, although specifically oriented towards French legislation, could be an inspiration for other people to undertake a similar analysis on how the law could contribute to the preservation and promotion of the public domain in their own country !

Launch of the Public Domain Review to celebrate Public Domain Day 2011

Jonathan Gray - January 1, 2011 in Public Domain, Public Domain Works, Releases, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

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

The 1st of January every year is Public Domain Day, when new works enter the public domain in many (though unfortunately not all) countries around the world.

To celebrate, the Open Knowledge Foundation is launching the Public Domain Review, a web-based review of works which have entered the public domain:

Each week an invited contributor will present an interesting or curious work with a brief accompanying text giving context, commentary and criticism. The first piece takes a look at works by Nathanael West, whose works enter the public domain today in many jurisdictions.

You can sign up to receive the review in your inbox via email. If you’re on Twitter, you can also follow @publicdomainrev. Happy Public Domain Day!

Related posts:

  1. Which works enter the public domain in 2011?
  2. Alpha launch of Public Domain Works
  3. Workshop on Open Bibliographic Data and the Public Domain

How we crowdfunded $70k to make public domain recordings of public domain works

Jonathan Gray - November 5, 2010 in Free Culture, Guest post, Public Domain, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is from Aaron Dunn, founder of Musopen and member of the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

Several years ago, I began a small project I called Musopen (derived from Music + Open Source). As a college student, I was confused as to why record labels were suing their own customers and frustrated that there were no legal alternatives (sources of copyright free music). I became inspired to create Musopen using what recordings I could obtain from my musician friends and college orchestra.

Over the past few years Musopen has been fairly dormant: a small niche site for classical music recordings. I’ve spent most of this time contacting musicians I know personally, writing to music departments to donate music, and very slowly adding more music to the site. Building any community is not an easy thing, but it is even tougher though when that community is made up of groups of people asked to sit and record music and then give up their rights to those recordings. Due to the difficulty in getting new music, I was sure Musopen would remain a small side-project with little potential for growth.

New Approach

Inspired by the success Diaspora experienced with their upcoming Facebook clone, I decided to run a KickStarter campaign for Musopen with the goal of hiring an orchestra. I was hoping it might act as a small PR stunt to draw attention to the project. My original goal was $11,000, just barely enough to hire a decent orchestra and record a small set of music. With a fair amount of international attention including NPR, BBC, Wired Magazine and other coverage, we raised well over our goal receiving over $70,000.

Crowdsourcing Formula

Clearly, crowdsourcing worked in this case. However, not all crowd-sourcing approaches work equally well. I tried something very similar before which despite today thinking it would be a better approach, didn’t work. A year ago I created a feature on the site which allowed users to donate or as I called it “bid” for specific pieces of music. The idea was to create a collaborative Ebay for music, where user’s donations could be combined to purchase music into the public domain.

Not much came of this, many pledged to donate but didn’t pay. There are a few reasons why this happened. One reason is understandable: people wouldn’t donate unless they were certain the piece would be recorded. Many also have specific conditions regarding the license that should be used or specific musicians that should be hired.

KickStarter freed me of these issues as it allowed us to raise money with a singular purpose of freeing as much music as we could afford. Also notable, many of those who donated to Musopen aren’t particularly music people. Kickstarter allowed us to reach an audience passionate about freeing culture or public domain works.

What’s Next for Musopen?

With all the attention the project has received, we are focused on showing that the same model we’re proving for recordings will work for all aspects of music and music education. We are about to finish a college-level music textbook and I am interested in creating several more textbooks, online music theory tutorials, free music lessons/classes, integrating other more modern forms of music and much more.

I’m excited that KickStater and our success has shown that there is potential for open music. We have a lot of projects moving forward and if you or anyone you know is interested in working with us please feel free to write me at aaron@musopen.org.

Related posts:

  1. Musopen – free public domain music!
  2. New developments on Public Domain Works!
  3. Public Domain Works Database Project

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

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