COMMUNIA European Thematic Network on the Public Domain

We are part of the COMMUNIA European Thematic Network on the Public Domain.

The COMMUNIA Thematic Network has been working for over three years at becoming a European point of reference for theoretical analysis and strategic policy discussion of existing and emerging issues concerning the public domain in the digital environment – as well as related topics, including, but not limited to, alternative forms of licensing for creative material; open access to scientific publications and research results; management of works whose authors are unknown (i.e. orphan works).

Funded by the European Commission within the eContentplus framework, the 3-years long project expects to provide policy guidelines that will help each stakeholder involved – public and private, from the local to the European and global level.

The digital public domain

In the strict sense of copyright law, the “public domain” refers to those works which are no longer or have never been protected by copyright.

For the purposes of the COMMUNIA Network activities, however, the concept of “public domain” is wider in scope, including:

  • “Open Access” policies, which can in turn be divided into:
    • Open Access to the results of scientific research, whether in the forms of articles or research output;
    • “open access” as a movement away from an “all rights reserved” approach, by which rightsholders reserve every single use possible, towards a “some rights reserved” approach, by which rightsholders voluntarily renounce to some of the exclusive rights granted by copyright law – Creative Commons licenses are maybe the most known, but not the only, example of such an approach;
  • “exception and limitations” to copyright, whether in the form of “fair use/fair dealing” in common law systems or more explicitly defined cases found in civil law systems;
  • “orphan works”, i.e. works which are still protected by copyright but for which it is impossible to obtain proper authorization by the rightsholders – in many cases because nobody knows where the latter are living to contact them – with the result of having a body of works whose use is in principle forbidden by the law;

Moreover, COMMUNIA activities are in a way more focused than a standard analysis of the “public domain”, insofar as efforts will be devoted mostly to the digital environment and the way in which the above issues map onto such domain.

In general, COMMUNIA will help framing the analysis, the debate and the general discourse on and around the public domain in the digital environment by highlighting the challenges arising from the increasingly complex interface between scientific progress, technological innovation, cultural development, socio-economic change on the one hand and the rise and mass deployment/usage of digital technologies in the European information society.

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