COMMUNIA FINAL REPORT | COMMUNIA and the European Public Domain Project

Subtitle: 
A European Network for a new perspective

COMMUNIA is aggregating a strong coalition that is promoting the public domain and a sustainable cultural development in Europe. COMMUNIA has been strengthening a European network of organizations that have been developing a new perspective on the importance of the public domain for Europe and the international arena at large. This is an essential precondition to solve the typical collective action problem raised by copyright policy, which, in accordance with Mançur Olson classical work, is driven by a small group of concentrated players to the detriment of the more dispersed interest of smaller players and the public at large.[43] Annex I of this Report will further detail activities, goals and the essence of the COMMUNIA network.

Several COMMUNIA members have embodied the COMMUNIA perspective and values in the Public Domain Manifesto. Conscious of the challenges and opportunities for the public domain in the technological environment of the networked society, the Public Domain Manifesto endorses fundamental principles and recommendations to actively maintain the structural core of the public domain, the voluntary commons and user prerogatives. With regard to the structural public domain, the manifesto states the following principles:

1. The Public Domain is the rule, copyright protection is the exception. [ . . . ]   2. Copyright protection should last only as long as necessary to achieve a reasonable compromise between protecting and rewarding the author for his intellectual labour and safeguarding the public interest in the dissemination of culture and knowledge. [ . . . ] 3. What is in the Public Domain must remain in the Public Domain. [ . . . ] 4. The lawful user of a digital copy of a Public Domain work should be free to (re-)use, copy and modify such work. [ . . . ] 5. Contracts or technical protection measures that restrict access to and re-use of Public Domain works must not be enforced. [ . . . ].

Together with the structural core of the public domain, the Public Domain Manifesto promotes the voluntary commons and user prerogatives by endorsing the following principles:

1. The voluntary relinquishment of copyright and sharing of protected works are legitimate exercises of copyright exclusivity. [ . . . ] 2. Exceptions and limitations to copyright, fair use and fair dealing need to be actively maintained to ensure the effectiveness of the fundamental balance of copyright and the public interest. [ . . . ].

Further, the Public Domain Manifesto puts forward the following general recommendations to protect, nourish and promote the public domain:

1. The term of copyright protection should be reduced. [ . . . ] 2. Any change to the scope of copyright protection (including any new definition of protectable subject-matter or expansion of exclusive rights) needs to take into account the effects on the Public Domain. [ . . . ] 3. When material is deemed to fall in the structural Public Domain in its country of origin, the material should be recognized as part of the structural Public Domain in all other countries of the world. [ . . . ] 4. Any false or misleading attempt to misappropriate Public Domain material must be legally punished. [ . . . ] 5. No other intellectual property right must be used to reconstitute exclusivity over Public Domain material. [ . . . ] 6. There must be a practical and effective path to make available 'orphan works' and published works that are no longer commercially available (such as out-of-print works) for re-use by society. [ . . . ] 7. Cultural heritage institutions should take upon themselves a special role in the effective labeling and preserving of Public Domain works. [ . . . ] 8. There must be no legal obstacles that prevent the voluntary sharing of works or the dedication of works to the Public Domain. [ . . . ] 9. Personal non-commercial uses of protected works must generally be made possible, for which alternative modes of remuneration for the author must be explored. [ . . . ].

In addition, the European-wide relevance of the public domain has been strengthened by other policy statements endorsing the same core principles of the Public Domain Manifesto. The Europeana Foundation has published the Public Domain Charter to stress the value of public domain content in the knowledge economy.[44] The many relations between the Public Domain Manifesto and the Europeana Charter were discussed at the 7th COMMUNIA Workshop in Luxembourg.[45] The Free Culture Forum released the Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge to plead for the expansion of the public domain, the accessibility of public domain works, the contraction of the copyright term, and the free availability of publicly funded research. Again, Open Knowledge Foundation launched the Panton Principles for Open Data in Science in February, 2010, to endorse the concept that “data related to published science should be explicitly placed in the public domain.”

Triggered by a forward-looking approach of the European institutions, Europe is putting together a very diversified and multi-sector network of projects for the promotion of the public domain and open access. The European public domain project is emerging in a strong multi-tiered fashion. Together with COMMUNIA, as part of the i2010 policy strategy, the European Union launched the Europeana digital library network, www.europeana.eu, to digitize Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage. The LAPSI project, www.lapsi-project.eu, was started to build a network covering policy discussions and strategic action on all legal issues related to access and the re-use of public sector information in the digital environment. Further, to assess the value and to define the scope and the nature of the public domain, the European Commission has promoted the Economic and Social Impact of the Public Domain in the Information Society project. The project, together with its methodology, was presented at the 1st COMMUNIA Conference in 2008.[46] 

Again, many other projects focus on extracting value from our scientific and cultural riches in the digital environment. The European DRIVER project, http://www.driver-repository.eu, presented at the 1st COMMUNIA Conference and the 1st COMMUNIA Workshop, builds a repository infrastructure combined with a search portal for all of the openly available European scientific communications.[47] The project ARROW (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works), http://www.arrow-net.eu, encompassing national libraries, publishers, writers’ organisations and collective management organisations, aspires to find ways to identify rightholders and rights, clear the status of a work, or possibly acknowledge the public domain status of a work.  Finally, the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH) aims to enhance and support digitally-enabled research across the humanities and the arts.

With the support of the Open Knowledge Foundation, the UK government announced the launch of www.data.gov.uk, a collection of more than 2,500 UK government databases, which is now freely available to the public for consultation and re-use.  The Open Knowledge Foundation launched the Public Domain Calculators project as part of the Public Domain Works project, www.publicdomainworks.net, an open registry of artistic works that are in the public domain. The Public Domain Calculators project, presented at the 3rd COMMUNIA Workshop, creates an algorithm to determine whether a certain work is in the public domain based on certain details, such as date of publication, date of death of author, etc.[48] The activities and goals of the Open Knowledge Foundation, a very active COMMUNIA member, were presented at the 1st COMMUNIA Workshop.[49]

Many other civic society endeavours have been working toward the goal of promoting open access and safeguarding the public domain throughout Europe. Among them, La Quadrature du Net, http://www.laquadrature.net, an advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet, is very active within and outside of the COMMUNIA network. The European Association for Public Domain, www.europeanpublicdomain.eu, was recently initiated as a project to promote and defend the public domain. Again, Knowledge Exchange is a co-operative effort run by European libraries and research foundations that supports the goal of making a layer of scholarly and scientific content openly available on the Internet. Finally, it is worth noting that commercial enterprises joined the COMMUNIA network in an attempt to investigate and promote open and public domain business models.

This distributed European public domain project is an encouraging starting point. Nonetheless, much still must be done to promote sustainability in the development of our cultural environment. The commodification of information, the enclosure of the public domain, and the converse expansion of intellectual property rights tell a story of unsustainable imbalance in shaping the informational policy of the digital society. COMMUNIA is, therefore, calling for targeted policy actions to redress the informational policy of the digital society and to maximize the economic and social value that may be extracted from the public domain, especially from the digital public domain.


[43] Mançur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Harvard U. Press 1971) (1965).

[44] See The Europeana Public Domain Charter, http://version1.europeana.eu/web/europeana-project/publications.

[45] See Jill Cousins, The Public Domain, the Manifesto, his Charter and her Dilemma, presentation delivered at the 7th COMMUNIA Workshop, Luxembourg (February 1, 2010).

[46] See Mark Isherwood, Rightscom Ltd, European Commission project: Economic and Social Impact of the Public Domain. Introduction to Methodology, paper presented at the 1st COMMUNIA Conference, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (June 30, 2008).

[47] See Sophia Jones and Alek Tarkowski, Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research - DRIVER project, presentation delivered at the 1st COMMUNIA Workshop, Turin, Italy (January 18, 2008); Karen Van Godtsenhoven, The DRIVER Project: on the Road to a European Commons for Scientific Communication, presentation delivered at the 1st COMMUNIA Conference, Louvain-la –Neuve, Belgium (June 30, 2008).

[48] See Jonathan Gray, Public Domain Calculators, presentation delivered at the 3rd COMMUNIA Workshop, Amsterdam, Netherlands (October 20, 2008).

[49] See Jonathan Gray, Rufus Pollock and Jo Walsh, Open Knowledge: Promises and Challenges, presentation delivered at the 1st COMMUNIA Workshop, Turin, Italy (January 18, 2008).