Public Domain Day 2016

Public Domain day 2016 at the European Parliament

On Monday the 25th of January COMMUNIA organized a Public Domain Day celebration at the European Parliament. The event, which focussed on showcasing creators who have chosen to donate their output to the public domain, was hosted by MEP Felix Reda.

The following creators participated in the event and shared their experiences as input at the lunch table discussions: Kenney Vleugels, who makes game assets available to other game developers  under the the CC0 public domain dedication, Alastair Parvin of, who is developing an open source approach to sustainable housing, Femke Snelting of Constant, who is publishing Public domain magazines, Eric Schrijver, who is writing a sharing guide for artists, and Thomas Lommee from Open Structures, a  standardised open design system. The lunch discussions focused on the artistic and design practices of these creators and the challenges they run into. A recurring theme was the legal uncertainty created by overly complex copyright laws, and the excessive length of copyright protection.

The Public Domain is traditionally seen as a body of old works that went out of copyright. Public Domain Day celebrates this very moment, when the period of copyright protection ends for works of certain authors. During our event we wanted to highlight the fact that the Public Domain is a modern phenomenon. That it is very much alive. From this perspective, the ongoing policy debate on European copyright will shape our Public Domain for years to come.

2016 is a crucial year for the public domain

As highlighted by Felix Reda in her intervention on Monday, 2016 promises to be a crucial year with regard to the future of the public domain. Later this year the European Commission will—for the first time in over 15 years—propose changes to the EU copyright rules. This provides the opportunity to adopt policies that will strengthen the public domain. Reda mentioned that the European Parliament clearly expressed the desire to better protect the public domain, both in the eponymous Reda report, and more recently in its report on the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy.

Unfortunately, measures related to strengthening the public domain do not seem to be very high on the Commission’s agenda right now. This is why we have used the Public Domain Day celebration to present a list of seven actions that will support the growth of the public domain in Europe. These actions are aimed at creating a modern copyright framework that is fit to serve the public interest in the 21st century. These actions need to be part of the update of the EU copyright rules.

7 ways to strengthen the public domain

  1. Ensure that the mere digitisation of public domain works does not create new rights over them. Some member states would like to allow anyone who digitized a public domain work to claim new exclusive rights. This creates legal uncertainty and undermines the concept of the public domain.
  2. Introduce a mandatory and strong exception to copyright for educational use. We need to ensure that education is not burdened by copyright-related barriers. To ensure this, we need a broad, harmonised exception. It should cover all types of uses, including digital and online activities, both inside and outside of the classroom.
  3. Allow cultural heritage institutions to make out-of-commerce works available online. Vibrant and diverse cultural heritage institutions are one of the defining features of our European culture. In order to remain relevant, they need to show their collections online. A new exception should allow these institutions to make available online the out-of-commerce works in their collections.
  4. Resolve the legal uncertainty around text and data mining. Text and data mining is quickly becoming a major foundation for contemporary scientific research practices. Reproductions made for the purpose of TDM should not require permission from rightsholders.
  5. Enshrine the freedom of panorama across the EU. The sharing of photos which are taken in public places is an example of an everyday activity that should not be regulated by copyright. The Freedom of Panorama exception should be mandatory for all member states.
  6. Establish a right to remix. Copyright law must enable individuals to make transformative uses of protected materials. Quoting and sampling from materials other than texts should also be possible without permission from rights holders.
  7. Lower the EU copyright term to life + 50 years. The duration of copyright in Europe needs to be shortened to the internationally required minimum of 50 years after the death of the author. Harmonisation across member states should be a priority, as today there are multiple exceptions to the general rule.

5 things to keep out of EU copyright reform

As with any reform effort, updating the existing EU copyright rules also poses the danger of introducing new legislation that would be detrimental to the public domain. That is why we have also highlighted five proposals which have been put forward in previous debates that would further weaken the public domain if they become part of the upcoming reforms.

  1. No ancillary copyright copyright for press publishers (or anyone else). Introducing new layers of rights will be detrimental to the public domain, especially if there is no economic evidence that warrants a change.
  2. The right to link must not be limited: (Hyper)linking is one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet. Any attempt to require permission for linking to copyright-protected works will damage both the internet and our societies.
  3. Preserve the liability limitations for online intermediaries: These are necessary to ensure that the internet continues to serve as an open publishing platform that enables citizens to publish, share, and interact with culture in creative ways.
  4. Don’t limit the use of text and data mining to academic researchers: Any effort to regulate text and data mining via a narrow exception that only applies to academic researchers will put Europe at a competitive disadvantage.
  5. Keep copyright out of TTIP (and all other trade agreements): Copyright provisions in trade agreements will only limit the ability to create sensible copyright policies for the EU.

You can download our public domain day posters (Frédéric Chopin, Kenny Vleugels and the Lumière Brothers) which contain these lists here and you can mail us at if you would like to have some of these posters sent to you.

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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