14 August 2007

A Public Enquiry into the Public Domain

The public domain is a vastly underappreciated resource - which probably explains why there have been so many successful assaults on it in recent years through copyright, patent and trademark extensions. But now, it seems, people are starting to wake up to its central importance for the digital world:

The new tools of the information society make that public domain material has a considerable potential for re-use - by citizens or for new creative expressions (e.g. documentaries, services for tourism, learning material). It contains published works, such as literary or artistic works, music and audiovisual material for which copyright has expired, material that has been assigned to the public domain by the right holders or by law, mathematical methods, algorithms, methods of presenting information and raw data, such as facts and numbers. A rich public domain has, logically, the potential to stimulate the further development of the information society. It would provide creators – e.g. documentary makers, musicians, multimedia producers, but also schoolchildren doing a Web project – with raw material that they can build on and experiment with, without high transaction or other costs. This is particularly important in the digital context, where the integration of existing material has become much easier.

Although there is some evidence of its importance, there has been no systematic attempt to map or measure its social and economic impact. This is a problem when addressing policy issues that build on public domain material (e.g. digital libraries) or that have an impact on the public domain (e.g. discussions on intellectual property instruments) in the digital age.

The European Union aims to remedy this lack with a study:

Call for tender: "Assessment of the Economic and Social impact of the Public Domain in the Information Society" was published today in the Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union 2007/S 151-187363. The envisaged purpose of the assessment is to analyse the economic and social impact of the public domain and to gauge its potential to contribute for the benefit of the citizens and the economy.

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