Creative Commons announced the release of the Public Domain Mark today, a tool that will help easily identify those works that are free of copyright restrictions. The mark - the letter C that's associated with the symbol for copyright, but with a slash through it - is meant to make it clear that the material is free to reuse.
Works are part of the public domain when their copyright expires or when the artist designates the work as such. This means that people can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work - even for commercial purposes, without asking permission.
Europeana, European's digital library, is the first major adopter of the mark. It estimates that the millions of copyright-free works in its database will be labeled with the Public Domain Mark by the middle of next year.
"The Public Domain Mark is a further step on the path towards making the promise of a digital public domain a reality," said American University law professor Michael Carroll, a founding board member of Creative Commons. "Marking and tagging works with information about their copyright status is essential. Computers must be able to parse the public domain status of works to communicate its usefulness to the public. The metadata standard underpinning the Public Domain Mark and all of CC's licensing and legal tools are what makes this possible."
Labelling works as part of the global public domain is challenging as different countries have different intellectual property laws. Creative Commons says it is working on a system for identifying works that are in the public domain, but in only a limited number of countries.