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Sita’s free: Landmark copyleft animated film is now licensed CC0

- January 19, 2013 in Free Culture, Nina Paley, Open Content, Public Domain, Public Domain Works

Sit back and relax're free!

Sit back and relax’re free!

This past Friday, American cartoonist, animator, and free culture activist Nina Paley announced she was releasing her landmark animated film Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons CC0 licenseSita Sings the Blues is quite possibly the most famous animated film to be released under an open license. The 82 minute film, which is an autobiographical story mixed with an adaptation of the Ramayana, was released in 2008 under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Paley, a well known copyleft and free licensing advocate, found inspiration for releasing Sita in recent life events. The day after learning about the death of internet activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz, Paley was asked to provide permissions, by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), for filmmaker Chris Landreth to “refer” to Sita Sings the Blues in an upcoming film. Challenges with NFB lawyers reminded Paley of the challenges Swartz faced in relation to his “freeing” of JSTOR documents. “I couldn’t bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn’t,” Paley explained on her blog. She refused to sign the paperwork, and the NFB requested that Landreth remove any mentions of Sita in his film. “CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence,” Paley states, channeling her frequent frustration with film industry lawyers and copyrights. In a copyleft community where participants are often challenged on what license is the best option, Paley took this chance to attempt to discover that: “I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.” Sita can now sing the blues (or perhaps something happier, since she is as free as it can get), without having to file for paperwork ever again.

The Myth of European Term of Protection Harmonisation

- November 21, 2012 in Featured, Open GLAM, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain

This blog post is based on Christina’s paper, “The Myth of European Term Harmonisation – 27 Public Domains for 27 Member States”. This is a shortened version of the post – the full version is available on the OpenGLAM blog. Copyright is supposed to be a temporary right: once it has expired, works automatically fall into the public domain for free public access and enjoyment. The importance of this arrangement is especially essential today, in view of the opportunities that internet technologies offer for the online distribution and reuse of out-of-copyright works: electronic repositories of culture such as Europeana, Project Gutenberg or Google Books are currently attempting to digitise and make available online out-of-copyright works, while modern participatory culture means that even individual users can more easily share old works or incorporate them into their own creative output. Public domain calculators are technical tools to help determine when a work falls into the public domain. The idea is to provide a measure of legal certainty to cultural heritage institutions, as well as the average user, that they are not inadvertently infringing creators’ copyright, allowing them to confidently work with material for which copyright has expired and thus helping to sustain a vibrant, up-to-date and functional public domain. As has been mentioned before on this blog, as part of the EuropeanaConnect project, Kennisland and the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam set about creating one such calculator, concentrating on the term of protection rules in Europe. With the final tool now ready and available online, below we shall lay out some of the main conclusions drawn during their building process on the intricacies and limitations of European term of protection rules.

Term Disharmonisation and its Causes

When does a work enter the public domain? In EU Member States, the answer to this question should at least be “at the same time” – the Term Directive, one of the first European copyright directives adopted, was intended to leave no room for national deviations from the harmonised European norm. Nevertheless, careful examination of the Directive’s rules reveals that it has not entirely succeeded in this objective. The way in which the rules laid down by the Directive have been incorporated into national law has differed from Member State to Member State, leading to divergences of up to fifty years for particular works! As a result, the composition of the public domain differs from country to country, as works fall out of copyright on different dates in different EU Member States: the European public domain contracts and expands along the pattern set by national legislative quirks. The construction of the Public Domain Calculators helped identify the following main sources of legislative variability in this area:

1. Inconsistent Terms = Inconsistent Term

Inconsistency in substantive legal terms is rife, leading inevitably to inconsistency in term calculations. A work may qualify as a work of joint authorship in one jurisdiction, a collective work in another and as a collection of two or more separate works in a third, producing totally different periods of protection. The European Commission has addressed this problem with the recent amendment of the Term Directive in September 2011 for co-authored musical works, but has left the problem in other areas looming.

2. Exceptions to Harmonisation

The next problem is the array of explicit exceptions within the Term Directive. These occur in three areas: transitional provisions preserving longer terms of protection already running in a Member State (of which there are plenty); moral rights, an area generally left untouched by European legislation; and related rights over subject matter originating from outside the EU.

3. Related Rights

The Term Directive limits itself to the related rights of performers, producers of phonograms, broadcasting organisations and producers of first fixations of films. But Member States are allowed to introduce or maintain other related rights whose term will be determined exclusively by national law. A variety of such rights can be found across the EU, from non-original photographs (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden) to the typographical arrangement of a published edition (Greece, Ireland, Spain, UK), producing a maze of different rights each with its own term of protection.

4. Incorrect Implementation

Finally, divergences between Member State rules might simply result from the incorrect implementation of the Term Directive. Although this is obviously a risk run with any harmonising attempt, the complicated calculations, hierarchy of rules and transitional provisions of the Term Directive do not lend themselves to smooth transposition.


The calculation of the term of protection ought to be a straightforward exercise that any copyright layperson (or at least those with enough copyright knowledge to be able to properly identify the applicable rights) should be able to confidently undertake. Yet this is far from the case. This effect was illustrated in the Public Domain Calculators by the need for separate electronic tools, giving on occasion very different results, for each of the 30 jurisdictions covered, including the 27, ostensibly harmonised, EU Member States. This effectively illustrates the way in which the incomplete harmonisation of the term of protection increases the complexity of the calculation process in Europe x27! The Calculators are as a result accompanied by a broad disclaimer, explaining that they cannot replace the case-by-case assessment by a legal expert, while it is also for the above reasons that the very concept of automated calculation is warily approached by copyright experts. But the problem lies not with the concept of electronic term of protection calculation in itself, but with outdated, badly harmonised and obscure rules that fail to live up to the requirements of the internet era, thus hampering end-users and cultural heritage organisations from taking full avail of the new opportunities now technically available. Certainly, the full harmonisation of European rules on the term of protection would not do away with the difficulties created by the current, particularly convoluted, calculation process – but it would go a very long way towards simplifying the requirements for rights clearance across the EU by replacing 27 sets of complicated rules with only one. Readers are invited to give feedback on the Public Domain Calculator on the pd-discuss list.

The Year in (Public Domain) Review

- February 15, 2012 in OKF Projects, Our Work, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain

Last month, the glorious Public Domain Review celebrated its first birthday. The Public Domain Review aspires to become a bounteous gateway into the whopping plenitude that is the public domain, helping our readers to explore this rich terrain by surfacing unusual and obscure works, and offering fresh reflections and unfamiliar angles on material which is more well-known. It’s been a fantastic year for our online compendium of public domain treasures: here’s a little round-up of some of the highlights – take what you like, and find more on the website!


Julian Barnes told the story of when a young Guy de Maupassant was invited to lunch at the holiday cottage of Algernon Swinburne. A flayed human hand, pornography, the serving of monkey meat, and inordinate amounts of alcohol, all made for a truly strange Anglo-French encounter. Utriusque Cosmi (1617-1621), the masterwork of physician and polymath Robert Fludd, was explored by Urszula Szulakowska, who looked at the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work, which you can access through the post. Julie Gardham took a look at the book that was said to have spurred a young Isaac Newton onto the scientific path, The Mysteries of Nature and Art by John Bate. In this picture you can see “Another manner of forcing water, whereby water from any spring may be forced unto the top of a hill” And in Bugs and Beasts Before the Law, Nicholas Humphrey explored the strange world of medieval animal trials, with murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal.


We’re also constantly expanding our collections of film, image, text and audio. Check out the collection of maps by Piri Reis, a sixteenth century Ottoman Admiral famous for his detailed and accurate maps and charts of the Mediterranean.


Or the these pages from Giambattista della Porta’s 1586 book on physiognomy De humana physiognomonia libri IIII, courtesy of the National Library of Medicine via Wikimedia:

Become a Public Domain Review Patron

The first year of the Public Domain Review was made possible by seed funding from the Shuttleworth Foundation. We are now, however, relying solely on support from our readers to keep the project going, so please, if you enjoy the site and wish to see it continue and grow do consider becoming a patron! Your generosity will help keep us afloat while we scour the web in search of the most interesting and unusual public domain artefacts that we can find, and the most erudite and entertaining voices to write about them. It will also ensure the continuation of our work behind the scenes with institutions (universities, libraries, museums, etc.) trying to ensure that works in the public domain remain in the public domain when they go online.

Public Domain Day: January 1st 2012

- December 13, 2011 in COMMUNIA, Events, Guest post, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is by Juan Carlos de Martin, from the the Politecnico of Torino, Italy, one of the organisers of the annual Public Domain Day of which the OKF is a proud supporter. Every January a growing number of people throughout the world gather to celebrate the new year. But not for the usual reasons. They meet because every January 1st the works of authors who 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 year 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 translating 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. In 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 they 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, which an increasing number of scholars, NGO’s 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 and the brand new, Brussels-based COMMUNIA association for the digital public domain, 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 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 great-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. If you’re interested in organising an event in your area, you can join the pd-discuss list.

Prizewinning bid in ‘Inventare il Futuro’ Competition

- November 5, 2011 in Annotator, Bibliographic, Essays, Featured Project, Free Culture, Musings, News, OKF Projects, Open Shakespeare, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, texts, WG Humanities, WG Open Bibliographic Data

By James Harriman-Smith and Primavera De Filippi On the 11th July, the Open Literature (now Open Humanities) mailing list got an email about a competition being run by the University of Bologna called ‘Inventare il Futuro’ or ‘Inventing the Future’. On the 28th October, Hvaing submitted an application on behalf of the OKF, we got an email saying that our idea had won us €3 500 of funding. Here’s how.

The Idea: Open Reading

The competition was looking for “innovative ideas involving new technologies which could contribute to improving the quality of civil and social life, helping to overcome problems linked to people’s lives.” Our proposal, entered into the ‘Cultural and Artistic Heritage’ category, proposed joining the OKF’s Public Domain Calculators and Annotator together, creating a site that allowed users more interaction with public domain texts, and those texts a greater status online. To quote from our finished application:
Combined, the annotator and the public domain calculators will power a website on which users will be able to find any public domain literary text in their jurisdiction, and either download it in a variety of formats or read it in the environment of the website. If they chose the latter option, readers will have the opportunity of searching, annotating and anthologising each text, creating their own personal response to their cultural literary heritage, which they can then share with others, both through the website and as an exportable text document.

As you can see, with thirty thousand Euros for the overall winner, we decided to think very big. The full text, including a roadmap is available online. Many thanks to Jason Kitkat and Thomas Kandler who gave up their time to proofread and suggest improvements.

The Winnings: Funding Improvements to OKF Services

The first step towards Open Reading was always to improve the two services it proposed marrying: the Annotator and the Public Domain Calculators. With this in mind we intend to use our winnings to help achieve the following goals, although more ideas are always welcome:
  • Offer bounties for flow charts regarding the public domain in as yet unexamined jurisdictions.
  • Contribute, perhaps, to the bounties already available for implementing flowcharts into code.
  • Offer mini-rewards for the identification and assessment of new metadata databases.
  • Modify the annotator store back-end to allow collections.
  • Make the importation and exportation of annotations easier.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if any of this is of interest. An Open Humanities Skype meeting will be held on 20th November 2011 at 3pm GMT.

A translation fund for public domain texts

- November 2, 2011 in Free Culture, Ideas, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation. It was originally posted on his blog.
If a text is widely known and published more than a century and a half ago, chances are that it will be freely available on the web to read and download. Every person with an internet connection has access to a vast wealth of cultural and historical material: novels and poems, essays and manifestos, constitutions and scriptures. As well as accessing and sharing this material, the law says that anyone can translate and republish works which have entered the public domain. But translations constitute new creative works and are hence covered by copyright and related rights, which means that by default they cannot be shared online. This is, of course, perfectly understandable. There is money to be made from producing new translations of classic works, which means publishers and translators are incentivised to assert their rights. Literary translation is a fine art: translators must unpick constellations of connotation and navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of fidelity and perspicuity as they reconstitute the work they are translating into its target language. It is natural to reward translators in the same manner we reward authors of original texts – for translations often are new literary works. Things like Seamus Heaney’s rendering of Beowulf, Baudelaire’s Edgar Allen Poe, or Schegel’s Shakespeare testify to this. So if I want to read a work in a language that I do not understand, I must go to a bookshop and buy a new translation. Such is life. But wouldn’t it be nice if some new translations of public domain texts were freely available for people to read online? If the commercial translations were complemented with a stronger culture of translators sharing the fruits of their labour? One could imagine this could be encouraged with a mixture of stronger norms and alternative incentives. For example, students could be encouraged to share translations made during the course of their studies. There could be more avenues for scholars and professional translators to publish works which they are unlikely to get a contract to publish or derive income from, such as shorter or more obscure works. And there could be awards, stipends or bursary funds for outstanding translations of public domain works which were freely published on the web. At the Public Domain Review we’ve been thinking about how a literary translation fund for public domain texts might work. We’re currently thinking:
  • There could be an initial focus on short works (e.g. under 10,000 words), with a token stipend or cash prize to recognise outstanding translations.
  • It could be overseen by an advisory group of writers, scholars, translators, publishers and critics – who would help to give direction and focus to the fund, evaluate submissions and publicise it.
  • Translations would be published under a Creative Commons Attribution or Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license and uploaded to the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or Wikisource.
  • It could be financially supported by a mixture of cultural and academic funding bodies and augmented with sponsorship from the private sector (publishers, literary publications, technology companies, etc).
We’d like to try and launch a small fund to do this to coincide with Public Domain Day 2012. Do you have thoughts about how this could work? Know of anything like it that already exists? Or know people or bodies who might be interested in supporting this? If you have any cunning ideas, please do send me a message or leave a comment below! makes Public Domain Calculators available for the entire European Union

- August 15, 2011 in Bibliographic, bibliographica, Featured Project, Guest post, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is by Maarten Zeinstra from KnowledgeLand. Maarten is a member of the OKF Working Group on the Public Domain. Works that have fallen into the public domain after their term of copyright protection has elapsed can be freely used by everybody. In theory that means that these works can be reused by anyone for any purpose which includes commercial exploitation. In theory the public domain status increases access to our shared knowledge and culture and encourages economic activities that do not take place as long as works are protected by copyright. In turn the commercial exploitation of public domain works (for example out of copyright books) has the tendency to increase their accessibility. In practice, however, determining whether a work has passed into the public domain can prove very difficult. This is especially true when attempting to determine the public domain status of content in multiple jurisdictions. As part of the EuropeanaConnect project, Knowledgeland and the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam have developed public domain calculators to determine whether a certain work or other subject matter vested with copyright or neighbouring rights (related rights) has fallen into the public domain. These public domain calculators have been developed for 30 countries (the European Union plus Switzerland, Iceland & Norway) and are available at Users can use the calculators (and the underlying research published at to determine the copyright status of works in all these countries. This is the first time that this question has been structurally researched across all European jurisdictions. The results of this research of national copyright laws show a complex semi-harmonized field of legislation across Europe that makes it unnecessarily difficult to unlock the cultural, social, and economic potential of works in the public domain. Identification of works as being in the public domain needs be made easier and less resource consuming by simplifying and harmonizing rules of copyright duration and territoriality. Outofcopyright continues to adjust and refine its calculators. It is also researching how to make calculation possible using large datasets like bibliographica, DBPedia, and the Europeana datasets on cultural objects in Europe. We encourage everyone interested in the public domain to try the calculators, comment on them and re-use the published research. All research and other material on Outofcopyright is available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license and the software powering the calculators can be reused under the terms of the EUPL license.

The Public Domain Review has a new website!

- August 9, 2011 in Bibliographic, Free Culture, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, texts, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.
As part of our work to open up the wealth of cultural works which have entered the public domain, earlier this year we launched the Public Domain Review. Adam Green, the Public Domain Review‘s wonderful Editor, has been hard at work over the past few weeks and the project now has a beautiful new website which you can find here: In addition to weekly articles about interesting or obscure public domain works, there are now curated collections of texts, images, audio and film material – hand-picked from various online sources. If you’re interested in receiving the Public Domain Review you can sign up to receive it in your inbox. If you like the project, you can also become a supporter.

Announcing… Text Camp 2011

- July 25, 2011 in Events, Open Shakespeare, Public Domain, Public Domain Works, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Humanities, WG Public Domain, Workshop

The following post is from James Harriman-Smith, coordinator of the OKF’s Open Literature Working Group, and Lecteur at the ENS de Lyon. The OKF’s first ever ‘Text Camp’ hopes to bring together many different people, all interested in the relationship between digital technologies and literature, with a strong focus on the creation of open knowledge. When? 13th August 2011, 10am – 6pm
Where? London – Event Location TBA.
Register: During the day, we hope to create, discuss and maybe even publish ‘open literature’, which is to say that we will work on both texts that are in (and about) the public domain, and on the open-source tools for the analysis and appreciation of these works. Planned activities include:
  • Discussion and/or hacking of 2,231 texts recently released from Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) with the help of the Text Creation Partnership
  • Coming up with ideas for and perhaps composing a web based narrative.
  • Writing a guide to creative commons and related licenses as regards literary productions.
  • Working out how to build an online community around a work of literature, with advice on the process of receiving edits to one’s own online work.
  • And, of course, much much more…
Why not suggest your own ideas? or take a look at the wiki for the event?