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Public Domain Mark Launches

Creative Commons has unveiled its Public Domain Mark, a tool to clearly label images that are free of known copyright restrictions.

The Mark is designed to make such images easier to find online, and to make it clear they are available for re-use. Creative Commons says “Its release benefits everyone who wishes to build upon the rich and vast resources that are part of the shared public domain.”

Europeana – Europe’s digital library, museum and archive – has become the Mark’s first major adopter. This means the tool will become the standard mark for works free of known copyright that are shared via the Europeana portal, fitting in with EU efforts to ensure all works shared online are marked with rights information.

Europeana, whose partners include the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Germany’s Bundesarchiv (Federal archives), estimates that the millions of out-of-copyright works made accessible via its searchable database will be labelled with the Mark by mid-2011.

The Public Domain Mark in its current form is intended for use with works that are free of known copyright around the world, primarily old works that are beyond the reach of copyright in all jurisdictions. Creative Commons is mapping the next phases of its public domain work, which will look at ways to identify and mark works that are in the public domain in a limited number of countries.

EPUK Moderator Andrew Wiard writes in response to the launch: The original Creative Commons Mark is designed to be applied by creators and rights holders to their own work.

This new Public Domain Mark is intended to be also used by third parties, which raise the questions how the copyright status of target photographs is to be established, and the use of the Mark policed.

The notion it can be applied to “works free of known copyright” does not inspire confidence.

Works in the public domain are not works whose copyright status is simply unknown – they are works known to be free of any copyright restrictions.

It is also alarming to find the Mark can be applied to works whose authors are “unknown”. It is not clear in such cases how works can be said to have been released into the public domain by authors who cannot be contacted, or (in the UK) by law 70 years after the death of an author who is – unknown.

Creative Commons will not be maintaining a record of works identified with their new mark. According to CC, unless expressly stated otherwise, the person who identifies the work makes no warranties about the work and disclaims liability for all uses of the work to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law.

Photographers will simply have to trust those wishing to make photographs freely available in this way to at all times use the new powers conferred upon them by Creative Commons responsibly.

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