Preserving the Public Domain

Copyright Week provides a timely opportunity to reflect on Communia’s mission to preserve the public domain and our common heritage against copyright extension, misleading attempts to privatize public domain works, the shrinking of users’ rights, and the general trend in extending the scope of copyright in ways detrimental to the production of culture and knowledge.

Communia began as a European Union-funded research network, consisting of an initial group of 50 researchers, practitioners and activists, and led by Juan Carlos De Martin. Communia was joined by non-European institutions in order to study the public domain at large, and also related topics such as open licensing, copyright exceptions and limitations, orphan works, and open data. Unusually, the Communia project produced a piece of work not foreseen in the original grant agreement, the Public Domain Manifesto. The Manifesto is an emblematic text stating that the public domain, the obverse of copyright, is a wealth of works which are difficult to identify and to define. The Manifesto proclaims, Public Domain is the rule and that copyright is the exception.

At the end of the EU-funded Communia Thematic Network, some members decided to continue the work of the group by creating an international association. Its mission is to raise awareness in, educate about, advocate for, offer expertise on, and research the Public Domain in the digital age– within society and with policymakers, at the EU level and worldwide. The first task was to summarize the policy recommendations contained in the Manifesto to constitute the basis of all the association’s future actions. You can download these recommendation as a set of 14 postcards, each displaying a policy recommendation on a work of art which is in the public domain.

Communia comments on draft legislation, especially European Union Directive drafts, in order to advocate for a more balanced public policy that incorporates the public domain as a vibrant collective resource. The organization has provided feedback and recommendations on a variety of issues, including collective societies allowing authors to use Creative Commons licensing, easier management of orphan works, better access to and reuse of public sector information, and open access to scientific data. Will Communia’s next challenge be the widespread recognition of the benefits to the public domain by European and international law? In 2014, Communia will reply to the EC consultation on copyright and continue follow up work on the public domain as an observer at WIPO. Besides writing policy papers, commenting on legislative proposals, and advocating for the inclusion of public domain in policy conversations. Perhaps the most useful work Communia will be involved with is developing a positive agenda to recognize a full statute for the public domain, with defined rights of its own, so that the public domain will survive and thrive.

King Charles II of England addresses members of the Estates General, 1660, Theodor Matham, after Jacob Toorenvliet, 1660
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