Leaders in the open world, intellectual property & social justice came together with hundreds of supporters to celebrate the works moving into the public domain in January 2021. Livestream available.
The Internet Archive celebrated the upcoming release of works created in 1925 for unrestricted use, from the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic The Great Gatsby, at a virtual party December 17.
The gathering marked Public Domain Day, January 1, when copyright will be lifted from an array of movies, books, and other works of art produced 85 years ago. A quartet played a medley of songs that will enter the public domain in 2021; the winning entry of a short film contest was shown, paying tribute to works from 1925; and a panel of copyright experts and open advocates discussed today’s information sharing landscape. Watch the celebration now on the captured livestream.
“Why openness? To make the world more equitable, promote social justice, and to find answers in times of pandemic,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “Public domain gives freedom to enjoy, freedom to share, freedom to fly. It is the gold standard of openness.”
A robust public domain is essential for the future free knowledge, said Katherine Maher, chief executive officer of the Wikimedia Foundation and guest panelist. More than just artifacts of the past (old movies, painting, and books), the public domain includes government works, 3D models of asteroids, and massive data sets to help people better understand the world.
“We all benefit when work enters the public domain and when people choose to dedicate things to the common good – whether it’s art or research or data,” Maher said. “When these works become available for public access and use, everyone can participate in culture and knowledge and we can begin to address vast inequities.”
The recent release by the Smithsonian of nearly three million images and data into public domain was a “big win,” noted Catherine Stihler, chief executive officer of Creative Commons. However, the community needs to remain vigilant.
“We still have to fight the good fight and push back against misguided proposals to extend copyright and ways that lock up our shared cultural heritage,” Stihler said.
Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) said the fastest development of a vaccine in history demonstrates the value of open.
“Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right,” Joseph said. “There has never been a moment in time when the need to promote and protect our ability to quickly and freely share science has been more urgent…For all darkness of 2020, to witness this amazing progress powered by openness has provided some really welcome light.”
The public domain was designed to empower everyone – regardless of economic or political status – to give access to knowledge and all of its building blocks from data to facts, ideas to theories to scientific principles, said Joseph.
Still, there is a history of copyright being used to exploit African Americans and other marginalized communities, as opposed to a tool of benefit and empowerment, said Lateef Mtima, professor of law at Howard University School of Law, and founder and director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice.
“For the intellectual property system to work properly, it has to adhere to social justice obligations, principles of equitable able access, inclusion and empowerment for everyone,” said Mtima. “The way we get to create new works is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be exposed to as many works as possible in the first place, because then they become inspired to produce new work.”
The Public Domain Day celebration reflects a positive inflection point in the social justice trajectory of copyright. With digital technology, there is a way to make the rich harvest of public materials available to everyone. But in order to do this, Mtima emphasized the need for broad societal investment in conquering the digital divide.
Amplifying some of the inequities, Kevin Green, chair and professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, shared an “Ode to the Public Domain” that he wrote for the event.
As part of the celebration, Amir Saber Esfahani announced the winner of the Public Domain Day Short Film contest: Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), an entry that incorporated music and images into a video collage paying tribute to works of 1925.
Wrapping up the evening, Kyle K. Courtney, a copyright lawyer and librarian at Harvard, mixed a Gin Rickey, a cocktail mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Then, Martin Kalfatovic, associate director of digital programs at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, offered a toast:
“Here’s to the progress of science and the useful arts, the explosion of creativity remixed in multiple formats. And as the new year passes again and again, we replenish the cup of our public domain.”
Added Kahle: “Public Domain Day is a fabulous holiday that should be enshrined forever. Long live the public domain and the community that supports it.”
A full livestream of the event is available for viewing.