January 1st every year. If you live in Europe, January 1st 2011 would be the day when the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Klee, Walter Benjamin and hundreds of other authors ranging from Leon Trotsky to Nathanael West emerge into the public domain  — where they are freely available for anyone to use, republish, translate or transform. You could copy the songs and photos, share the movies, make a digital library of the books. Your school could create an interactive volume of Klee’s artwork, or publish that cheap educational edition of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. You could translate Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed into other languages, produce a multimedia version of Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” annotated for the digital age, even make a new film based on West’s novel The Day of the Locust. Or you could just send a copy to a friend – without asking permission or violating the law.
On the first day of each year, Public Domain Day celebrates the moment when copyrights expire. You can read more about Public Domain Day around the world at Communia’s excellent site here. The films, photos, books and symphonies whose copyright term has finished become “free as the air to common use.” The end of the copyright on these works means that they enter the public domain, completing the copyright bargain. Copyright gives creators — authors, musicians, filmmakers, photographers — exclusive rights over their works for a limited time. The copyright encourages the creators to create and the publishers to distribute — that’s a very good thing. But when the copyright ends, the work enters the public domain — to join the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the books of Dickens — the material of our collective culture. That’s a good thing too! It’s the second part of the copyright bargain; the limited period of exclusive rights ends and the work enters the realm of free culture. Prices fall, new editions come out, songs can be sung, symphonies performed, movies displayed. Even better, people can legally build on what came before.
What is entering the public domain in the United States? Sadly, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year.
How to celebrate Public Domain Day? Markus Sandy is thinking about an Internet Archive Cleanup Day.
I love exploring the Internet Archive and building tools to help find media out there in the commons. As with any great collection or archive, there is a need for various kinds of cleanup tasks. Here’s a few things that I’d like to help clean up:
* Missing files. Bad uploads. Missing transcodes..
* Missing (core) metadata. I’ve even seen missing publication dates.
* Constructive reviews & ratings. This may also be good way to add metadata such as tags, shootlists, etc.
* Inappropriate contributions. There is lots of spam and other items that should be darkened.
* Transcodings. Many transcoded videos are missing audio.
* Duplicates. I have a few I could should remove.
* SEO. Promote what you love.