Public Domain Works

Public Domain Works is an open registry of artistic works that are in the public domain. It was created with a focus on sound recordings (and their underlying compositions) because a term extension for sound recordings was being considered for sound recordings in the EU. However, it now covers all types of cultural works. The project was initially developed by Free Culture UK, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Open Rights Group and today is maintained jointly by the Public Domain and Bibliographical working groups of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Get Involved

The Public Domain Works project is entirely volunteer run so we need your help. There’s a wide variety of tasks so there should be something for everyone. Among others, we need help with:

  1. Development of the public domain works database and web application.
  2. Finding data and processing data from other sources for use in the database (as opposed to entry by hand)
  3. Keeping this website and the wiki up to date
  4. Publicizing the registry so that people know it exists and know how they can use it

To get involved join up to the project mailing list:

Information on the code can be found in the project trac:

Why Public Domain Works?

The existence of an accessible public domain of cultural works is essential to the business of educators, academics, artists and critics alike. Originally, in order to benefit from copyright protection for a work, authors were required to register the work and deposit a copy at a central registry. This ensured that the identity of the work’s author could always be known, and that both copyright and public domain works could be easily identified.

Today it is no longer necessary to do this. Any work eligible for protection is covered from the time of the making or publication of the work, without any need to register that work as being protected, or to mark it as such. As a result, the process of identifying protected or public domain works is no longer trivial, as there is no central registry for copyrighted works, determining whether or not a work is still covered can rely on guesswork, or substantial (and costly) investigation. This is an unsatisfactory situation, as the prohibitive cost and time commitment involved in ascertaining whether a work is or is not in the public domain stifles creativity that could otherwise profit from the existence of public domain works.


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