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5 Awesome Organisations Working to Protect and Expand the Public Domain


We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today’s topic for Copyright Week is Public Domain and Creativity: Copyright policy should encourage creativity, not hamper it. Excessive copyright terms inhibit our ability to comment, criticize, and reworkour common culture.

Creative Commons licenses help authors keep and manage their copyright on terms they choose. Our public domain tools, on the other hand, enable authors who want to dedicate their works to the worldwide public domain to do so (by using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication), and facilitate the labeling and discovery of works that are already free of known copyright restrictions (by using the Public Domain Mark).

Creative Commons cares deeply about the public domain, and we’re not alone. There are many incredibly impactful, important, and simply interesting organisations and projects out there working to highlight, protect, and expand the public domain. Here are just a few of our favorites!


Not only does Wikipedia provide the starting point for anyone who wants to learn about what the public domain is, it’s also an excellent educational resource for Wikipedia editors (and anyone) to dive deeper into the theory, history, and country-specific rules surrounding copyright and the public domain. Wikimedia Commons (the media repository that hosts the images, sounds, and videos you see in a Wikipedia article) contains thousands of public domain works, helpfully reviewed and tagged by editors. The Wikimedia Foundation has also been quite active in policy advocacy in defense of the public domain.  

Internet Archive

Everyone knows Internet Archive because of the mighty Wayback Machine, the sprawling web archiving tool that has saved over 310 billion (!) web pages so far—searchable by anyone. But you might not know that the Internet Archive is a massive digital library—home to 11 million books and texts, 4 million audio recordings (including 160,000 live concerts), 3 million videos (including 1 million Television News programs), 1 million images, and 100,000 software programs. The archive contains likely tens or hundreds of thousands of public domain media files, and users can create an account and upload their own creative works and put them into the worldwide public domain using CC0.

Communia Association

The Communia International Association on the Public Domain is a collective of organisations and activists working to strengthen and enrich the public domain (Creative Commons is a founding member). The current focus of the association is policy analysis and advocacy within the context the European Commission’s proposal for a new Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. The current association was created at the completion of the eponymous research network, funded by the European Commission from 2007 to 2011. A major initiative of the project was the Public Domain Manifesto, endorsed by more than 1500 organisations and individuals, as well as a book-length study on the digital public domain, showcasing the major outputs of the research group.

Public Domain Review

The Public Domain Review is an online journal that showcases works that have entered the public domain, “that vast commons of out-of-copyright material that everyone is free to enjoy, share, and build upon without restriction.” It was launched by Open Knowledge in 2011. The site includes dozens of long-form essays which “seek to offer insight and reflection upon public domain works and the oft overlooked histories which surround them.” The website also includes browseable collections of public domain media, and also publishes an annual “class of” series around the new year to highlight works of authorship which will enter the public domain at the stroke of midnight on January 1.

Center for the Study on the Public Domain

The Center for the Study on the Public Domain is a research group started at Duke Law School in 2002. Its aim is “to promote research and scholarship on the contributions of the public domain to speech, culture, science and innovation, to promote debate about the balance needed in our intellectual property system and to translate academic research into public policy solutions.” The center was co-founded by James Boyle, a renowned copyright scholar and author who also was a founding board member of Creative Commons. In 2008 Boyle wrote a seminal work called The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. The center conducts legal and cultural research, and also has released several comic books on copyright issues, including Bound By Law and Theft! A History of Music.

Thanks to the tireless work of these organisations, the commons continues to strengthen and grow, improving access to our shared cultural and creative works in the public domain.

Posted 15 January 2018