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

Happy birthday, Public Domain Manifesto

Today we are re-launching the 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.

All of these sources that allow for increased access to culture, heritage and knowledge are important and all need to be actively maintained in order for society to reap the full benefit of our shared knowledge and culture. Over the past decade, this “active maintainance” of the Public Domain has primarily taken the form of attempts at copyright reform. Guided by the general principles established by the Public Domain Manifesto activists across the world are fighting for more sensible copyright rules that respect the social and economic functions of the public domain. As a tool to guide copyright reform activism, the manifesto has lost none of its usefulness and urgency over since it was launched. And while there have recently been some promising developments for the Public Domain in the EU copyright reform process the fight to bring copyright back to sensible proportions is far from being over (as evidenced by recent extensions of the term of protection in Japan and Canada).

To express your support for the Public Domain and for more sense copyright rules that put the interests of society at the center of copyright policy, please join us in signing the Public Domain Manifesto.

Etching of a printer's press by Abraham Bosse.
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