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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

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

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

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 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.


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 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!

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