Happy birthday, Public Domain Manifesto

Public Domain Manifesto - The Public Domain is the rule and copyright is the exception.Licentie

Today we are re-launching the www.publicdomainmanifesto.org website. 10 years after it’s conception and to the day 9 years after its first publication, the Public Domain Manifesto remains as relevant and timely as ever. The Manifesto, which was developed as part of the COMMUNIA network in 2009 and launched on the 25th of January 2010 serves as our foundational document and continues to guide our activities to this day. Since 2010 it has been signed by more than 3100 individuals and organisations (you can still sign it here).

We developed the Manifesto in order to counter the widespread perception that the Public Domain is simply characterised by the absence of copyright. With the Public Domain Manifesto we are proposing a positive definition of the Public Domain that highlights the important role the Public Domain plays for society.

The Public Domain, as we understand it, is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection, either because it is free from any copyright protection or because the right holders have decided to remove these barriers. It is the basis of our self-understanding as expressed by our shared knowledge and culture. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of our societies.

The Public Domain Manifesto goes on to define the Public Domain (something which most copyright laws do not do) and outlines principles and guidelines for a healthy Public Domain. The Public Domain, as aspired to in the Manifesto, is defined as cultural material that can be used without restriction, absent copyright protection. In addition to works that are formally in the Public Domain, this also includes works that have been contributed to the commons under open licenses. In addition, our definition also includes the rights users have under exceptions and limitations to copyright, fair use and fair dealing. Continue reading

The proposed publishers right is an attack on the public domain

Adreskaart voor boekhandel Scheltema en Holkema
Save the public domain from the publishers right
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Traditionally, at the beginning of the new year we celebrated what is known as Public Domain Day: on the first of January of any given year the works of authors who have been dead for more than 70 years enter the public domain. As this is a decisive year for copyright reform in the European Union, it seems much more important to highlight the dangers for the public domain that we are facing in the context of the copyright reform process (you can refer to Wikipedia and the Public Domain Review for overviews of works that have entered the public domain this year).

While copyright reform generally has a positive connotation, it is important to realise that a reform does not mean that things will change for the better. As we have pointed out before, the copyright reform package presented by the Commission is extremely one-sided. And both the attempt to introduce a new right for press publishers, and the requirements for online platforms to filter user uploads, have the potential to cause a lot of damage to the public domain and the ability of users to access information and express themselves online.

Shrinking the public domain

When it comes to the public domain the proposal to introduce a new right for press publishers contained in article 11 of the Commission’s proposal is the most dangerous, as it has the potential to shrink the public domain. Our 2010 Public Domain Manifesto defines the public domain as being

… comprised of our shared knowledge, culture and resources that can be used without copyright restrictions by virtue of current law.

This definition implies that the scope of the public domain can change in response to changes of the legal environment. The most obvious would be changes to the duration of copyright protection. Lengthening the term of protection would shrink the public domain while shortening the term would grow the public domain (as we argue for in our policy recommendation #1). Continue reading

Copyright Week 2016: The public domain as foundation for EU copyright law reform

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We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

COMMUNIA advocates for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge. Over the last few years we’ve focused on policy advocacy and copyright reform in Europe, especially in light of the review of the EU copyright rules. The public domain is an essential sphere for creativity and knowledge production, and its limitless potential continues to inform our copyright reform advocacy.

We write in our March 2015 policy paper about several changes to EU copyright law that would better support the public domain. Some of these include capping the term of copyright protection to the minimum required by the Berne Convention, opposing the introduction of ancillary copyrights, protecting the freedom of panorama, and exempting works produced by the public sector from copyright protection. In addition, we call for the introduction of a positive definition of the public domain, the recognition of the legal validity of voluntary dedication of works to the public domain by their authors, and clarity that digitizing public domain works should not generate new exclusive rights.

In June of last year the European Parliament adopted an evaluation report on the existing EU copyright rules authored by MEP Julia Reda. While the EP failed to call for substantial updates to exceptions and limitations, it contains some support for the public domain. It urges the European Commission to clarify that once a work is in the public domain, the simple act of digitisation does not create new rights. It suggests that the term of copyright be held at the international standard (life of the author plus 50 years). It also states that works created by government employees should be in the public domain. Finally, it recognizes that authors should be able to dedicate their works to the public domain.

With its report, the European Parliament also rejected the introduction of an ancillary copyright for for press publishers. This is an important victory as adding such an extra layer of rights to the already extensive body of copyright and copyright-like protections would further limit the public domain. Unfortunately, the European Commission still hasn’t distanced itself from plans to introduce an ancillary copyright on the EU level, which has prompted 83 members of parliament to reconfirm their opposition to it in December.

With legislative proposals promised by the Commission in the first half of this year, 2016 promises to become a crucial year with regard to the shape of the public domain in Europe. On the 25th of January we are kicking the year off with an event in the European Parliament celebrating Public Domain Day (hosted by MEP Julia Reda). Together with creators and policymakers, we will discuss the value of the public domain and how an update of the EU copyright rules can strengthen the public domain for everyone.

Happy Public Domain Day

On this day, 1st of January 2013, we do not only celebrate the beginning of a new year, but we also celebrate the whole variety of works, knowledge and information that, by entering the public domain, have become freely available to the world.

Given the limited term of protection granted by copyright law, a large number of works – whose authors died several decades ago – can no longer be owned by anyone and their use can no longer be constrained. They have become part of the common pool of knowledge that constitutes our cultural heritage and that can be freely used by everyone and for any purpose.

Continue reading

The Little Prince and the Public Domain

so it’s the time of the year again where lists of authors who’s works will enter into the public domain on the 1st of january are compiled left and right. Generally these efforts work like this: you start a list of authors who have died in in the year ending 70 years ago (1942) and then compile them into a list and rank them by whatever criterion you wish to apply (notability, specific nationality, etc..).

While this seems rather straightforward it seems like a good opportunity to recall the underlying complexities of calculating copyright term duration: If you have a fast internet connection and a big screen, you may want to take a look at this 25 MB pdf, which depicts the decision trees for 30 european jurisdictions that power the public domain calculators on www.outofcopyright.eu.

The interesting thing about this PDF is not how complex it is in absolute terms, but rather that the subject matter depicted is supposed is something that the EU considers to be ‘harmonized’ (by the 2006 copyright term directive). As you can easily tell by glancing at the image above, copyright duration in the EU is anything but harmonised. In fact, as Christiana Angelopoulos, who compiled the information contained in the pdf, argues in a new paper, we are dealing with 27 different public domains for the 27 member states of the EU. Continue reading

Public Domain Day 2012 (Paris)

Following the trend established by the Communia Thematic Network, we celebrated Public Domain Day in Paris on the 26th of January with an event organised by the Communia Association, Wikimedia France, Creative Commons France, the CNRS Institute for Communication Sciences and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

What unites all these organisations is that they share the common goal of encouraging the dissemination of knowledge and information, including – but not limited to – works that are in the public domain.

After an introduction by Adrienne Alix (Wikimedia France) and Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay (ISCC/Communia), the event started with a screening of Georges Méliès’ science fiction movie “A Trip to the Moon” from 1902. This was followed by a presentation of works that entered the public domain on January 1st 2012. A list was created by sorting the entries of Wikipedia according to the authors’ deaths and is available at the following address. The list includes famous French authors such as Maurice Leblanc (Arsene Lupin), as well as the painter Robert Delaunay. It also includes internationally renowned authors such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, to name a few.

After the initial celebration, Lionel Maurel (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) and Primavera De Filippi (Open Knowledge Foundation) went on to illustrate the role of open bibliographic metadata in its relation with the public domain. While accurate and precise metadata is necessary for the purpose of identifying works that have fallen in the public domain, it is often difficult for libraries and other cultural institutions to provide all necessary information to properly determine the legal status of a work. This also was the occasion to present the Public Domain Calculators of the OKF and the challenges that must be addressed as a result of the complexities of French copyright law.Continue reading

Public Domain Day in Paris, France, 26 January 2012

Creative Commons France organizes with Wikimedia France, the CNRS Institute for Communication Science and the Open Knowledge Foundation a public domain day in Paris, with members of organizations partnering for this event, Philippe Aigrain and Jérémie Zimmermann of la Quadrature du Net, Rémi Mathis of Wikimedia France, Lionel Maurel @calimaq and Tangui Morlier of Regards Citoyens.

Journée du domaine public
Jeudi 26 janvier de 18h à 21h
Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS (ISCC)
Maison des Sciences de la Communication et de l’interdisciplinarité (MSCI)
20, rue Berbier du Mets 75013 Paris
Metro Gobelins

The hangover after Public Domain Day…

This post by Lucie Guibault was first published on the Kluwer Copyright Blog and is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

The New Year’s festivities are just behind us and with these the celebrations around Public Domain Day 2012 that took place in different cities in and outside Europe (Warsaw, Zurich, Turin, Rome, Haifa etc.).

2012 brings with it the joy of using James Joyce’s masterpieces without asking the estate for prior authorization (which more often than not met with a ‘no’ for an answer!). No one needs to be afraid of using the works of Virginia Woolf any longer! And the fans of Arsène Lupin, the French ‘gentleman burglar’, are now able to borrow – for good! – the ideas of its author, Maurice Leblanc. The works of several music composers are also free for reuse, including those of Frank Bridge and Johan Wagenaar.

The Public Domain Day IS important and SHOULD be celebrated annually, for it gives us the occasion to reflect on the significance of works of past authors and to measure the wealth of our common knowledge and culture. But unlike the New Year’s celebrations, however, those of the Public Domain Day do not attract much attention among the general public. Festivities of this sort are usually low-key, taking place in libraries, universities or cafés and gathering only the selected few of the well informed and culturally savvy.

Any cramped optimism concerning the public domain is further discouraged by the fact that the term of protection for copyright and related rights is 1) highly unharmonized across jurisdictions and 2) still being strechted beyond recognition through constant legislative action.

As an illustration of the first point, let me mention the case of world famous writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) whose works have fallen into the public domain two days ago in Canada, but neither in his home country, the United States, or in Europe, where copyright lasts for the life of the author + 70 years.

In Europe, the calculation of the term of protection for copyright and related rights is rendered particularly complex due to the lack of proper harmonisation of the governing rules in EU jurisdictions. Although the adoption of the EC Term Directive was an attempt to alleviate disparities between the Member States, harmonisation gaps persist. As a result, the composition of the public domain will differ depending on the country in which protection is sought, as works fall out of copyright on different dates in different EU jurisdictions. This effect is illustrated in the Public Domain Calculators by the need for separate calculators, giving upon occasion very different results, for each of the 30 jurisdictions covered, including the 27, ostensibly harmonised, EU Member States.

In relation to the second point, 2012 will inevitably see the first pieces of national legislation emerge in the EU Member States towards the implementation of Directive 2011/77/EU amending Directive 2006/116/EC on the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights. Through this statutory amendment only sound recordings published or communicated to the public before 1941 will be free for use. In practical terms, this means that none, not even the early recordings, of Maria Callas will be available for re-use without prior authorization of the record company holding the rights.

Finally, the march towards term extension does not seem to have reached its limit if one only takes a look at the clauses contained in bilateral and mulilateral trade agreements currently negotiated by the United States. Article 4.5 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, would bring the copyright term of protection of signatory countries up to the American (and European) level, as has been the case in the past in the context of bilateral agreements (with Australia and many countries of Central and South America, to name but these).

These are very sobering thoughts indeed! If the alcohol fumes of the New Year’s party still had any effect, one could even be tempted, for simplicity’s sake, to just make copyright protection perpetual…

Coming up: Public Domain Day 2012

Every January a growing number of people throughout the world gathers to celebrate the new year. But not for the usual reasons. They meet because every January 1st the works of authors who had died decades before – typically, seventy years before – enter the public domain, that is, their copyright protection expires. Why a celebration for such an apparently technical reason? Because as the new years starts, the works of those selected authors have finally reached the state to which all culture is headed since the earliest times. I am talking of the state that automatically allows any human being to sing, play, translate, summarize, adapt what other human beings have thought before them. Wish to produce a big print edition of your favorite poetry? Now you can. Fancy to translate into Sicilian dialect a play you love? Now you can. Possessed by the desire to illustrate, manga style, the ideas of your preferred political scientist? Now you can. Longing to publish a more correct version of a score riddled with typos that the publisher never cared to correct? Now you can.

Public Domain Day 2012In principle, all the above activities are perfectly possible even before the expiration of copyright. On condition, however, that one asks for permission the copyright owner (assuming that it can be located: let’s ignore here the huge problem of the so-called “orphan works”) and pays whatever is requested. Noting that very often the copyright owner is not the author (or his/her descendants), but a for-profit publishing house.

Consequently, many activities do not take place because either the copyright owner does not like the idea (no manga, for instance), or because the wannabe new author cannot afford to pay what is requested by the copyright owner.

Such restrictions, introduced, in their modern form, about three centuries ago to provide – for the common good – incentives to authors, now last an unprecedented seventy years (in Europe and in many other countries) after the death of the authors.

A shockingly long time, that an increasing number of scholars, NGO’s (among them the COMMUNIA association) and citizens are asking to reduce. To know more about the current debate on copyright reform and the role of the public domain, see for instance the Public Domain Manifesto, or check out the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

But as we work towards copyright reform, every January people who care about the public domain get together and welcome the works of a new batch of authors. In recent years, public domain day celebrations have taken place in cities throughout the world, from Zurich to Warsaw, from Torino to Haifa, from Rome to Berlin. The volunteer-staffed website publicdomainday.org provides an information hub for such celebrations.

The celebrations typically take place in libraries, universities or cafés. People read – or sometimes perform – the work of the new authors. It is often a moving experience, as great men and women from the time of our grand (and grand-grand) fathers come back to life under our affectionate gaze.

During the month of January 2012 people will gather again. Celebrations have already been announced in, among other places, Warsaw, Zurich, Torino and Rome. We hope that others will follow the example. Welcoming the works of some of our great writers, musicians, painters, poets, journalists, scholars is a most gratifying way to start the new year and also a great way to enhance the knowledge of our common cultural roots.