Interview with Adam Green and Jonathan Gray, founders of The Public Domain Review

Adam is a Berlin-based writer and artist. Jonathan works at a not-for-profit organisation called the Open Knowledge Foundation and studies philosophy and intellectual history at the University of London. Together, they created a website called The Public Domain Review

Free Software and public domain are somehow cousins, and -- more importantly -- they share similar goals. I talked to Adam and Jonathan, who agreed to answer a few questions for us.

[TM] Tell us about your web site, What's it about, and what do you focus on?

The Public Domain Review aims to be a kind of web-based wunderkammer of works which have entered the public domain, a cabinet of interesting curiosities with comment and criticism from contemporary writers, artists and scholars. We sift through online collections of public domain works looking for amazing things, and look for people who have insightful things to say about them. All of the material we feature and all of our articles are free for anyone to use for any purpose.

[TM] You seem to focus on public domain. How do you view licenses such as Creative Commons?

We use a Creative Commons Attribution license for all of our articles. This enables anyone to reuse them, so long as they credit us and the authors. Creative Commons licenses provide lots of choice for people who want to let other people reuse their material, which is great -- but some of them are quite restrictive such as the 'no derivatives' licenses which don't let others create derivate works. We're big fans of the 'open' CC legal tools such as the Attribution license, the Attribution-Sharealike licenses, CC Zero and the CC Public Domain Mark. We want to encourage those who publish public domain works to use these and other tools to minimise restrictions on digital copies of public domain works. As it says in very small writing on the footer of our website: "Strong Freedom in the Zone".

[TM] The law seems to be shifting, in terms of what's owned by the public and what's not. Mickey Mouse hasn't helped through the year. How do you determine what belongs to the public?

Yes, unfortunately the law is pretty complicated and it varies from country to country. The Open Knowledge Foundation has a project called the Public Domain Calculators, which aim to make it easier to determine whether a given work is in the public domain in a given jurisdiction. Basically these aim to represent the law in formal algorithms, which can be combined with information about works (date of publication, death date of author, etc) to give you a red, orange or red light for its public domain status in your country. Europeana, Europe's Digital Library, has done some great work in this area and will hopefully soon have working calculators for most European countries. You can find out more about Public Domain Calculators.

[TM] Any plans for the future?

We're going to have some great articles from several high profile writers, artists and public intellectuals. And we're going to be releasing some interesting printed publications and new editions of public domain works. Finally we're going to be doing a big publicity drive in the autumn to encourage more people to sign up to receive the Public Domain Review in their inbox. At the moment we have a relatively small (and dedicated!) base of subscribers, but we'd really like to have several thousand by the end of the year. If you know anyone who might be interested, please encourage them to sign up!


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