Research Perspectives on the Public Domain

CREATe Working Paper 2014-03CREATe Working Paper 2014/3

Kris Erickson and Martin Kretschmer (eds) (2014)


This document presents an edited transcript of the one-day event, ‘Research Perspectives on the Public Domain’, held at the University of Glasgow on 11th October, 2013. The public domain is a subject of vital interest to legal scholars, but its implications are far reaching – indeed, the public domain concept is germane to subjects as diverse as film and media studies, economics, political science and organisational theory. It was a central purpose of the workshop to arrive at a workable definition of the public domain suitable for empirical investigation. The traditional definition (1) takes the copyright term as the starting point, and defines the public domain as “out of copyright”, i.e. all uses of a copyright work are possible.  A second, more fine-grained definition (2) still relies on the statutory provisions of copyright law, and asks what activities are possible with respect to a copyright work without asking for permission (e.g. because use is related to “underlying ideas” not appropriating substantial expressions, or because use is covered by specific copyright exceptions). A third definition (3) includes as part of the public domain all uses that are possible under permissive private ordering schemes (such as creative commons licences).  A forth definition (4) moves into a space that includes use that would formally be copyright infringement but is endorsed, or at least tolerated by certain communities of practice (e.g. machinima or fan fiction).

The conference was designed to test these definitional approaches, and national and international speakers from relevant disciplinary fields were invited to share their research projects, with a particular focus on the underlying concept of the public domain.  This document is a citable documentation of those presentations, along with a panel discussion that followed.  This event was funded through a Knowledge Exchange grant, ‘Valuing the Public Domain’, from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC ES/K008137/1) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).  The digital resource was funded by CREATe, the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy (AH/K000179/1).

Slide presentations from the event can be downloaded at:

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