Preservation and digitisation help libraries and archives be the guardians of the Public Domain

Elliott Bledsoe
4 min readJan 15, 2024

The Public Domain treasure trove is at the heart of Australia’s identity and we need to preserve and protect it!

Cross-posted from the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA) blog.

A greeting card with a kangaroo dressed as a swagman, wearing a swag and boots, holding a billycan and walking stick and smoking a pipe. An early morning sky with clouds and a wide open plain extend behind the kangaroo. Below the kangaroo are the words, ‘A Happy New Year’.
A greeting card wishing the recipient a happy new year and featuring an artwork of a kangaroo dressed as a swagman. Public Domain. Full attribution information is available at the end of this blog post.

Today is New Year’s Day, which means it is also Public Domain Day — the day that new material passes into the Public Domain. No matter what copyright term applies to the material — life of the author, the year the material was first made public or the year it was made — copyright expires at the end of the relevant calendar year, making 1 January an important date for more reasons than just ushering in the new year.

The Public Domain consists of all the books, music, visual art, films and other content not protected by copyright. While there is a thin sliver of material that never attracts copyright protection, the majority of the Public Domain is made up of material whose copyright term has expired. With a copyright term that is essentially two people’s lifetimes (i.e. life of the creator plus 70 years), naturally a lot of the Public Domain is old. But the Public Domain is not some dusty relic of the past. It is source material that anyone can share, use and adapt. It is at the heart of Australia’s identity, its legacy and its future.

Artists, students, educators, researchers, historians, documentarians, innovators and everyone else are freely able to draw on this rich body of cultural material, building on ideas, adding to knowledge, sparking new creativity with fresh takes and new perspectives. As Jennifer Jenkins at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School said:

“Think of all of the works spawned by public domain stories and characters, whether it is Shakespeare’s plays, Jane Austen’s novels, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Shakespeare alone has inspired hundreds of new creations. 10 Things I Hate About You and Kiss Me Kate come from The Taming of the Shrew, West Side Story from Romeo and Juliet, Forbidden Planet from The Tempest.”

Protecting creativity is important, but ensuring we have a flourishing Public Domain is also crucial. Australia’s cultural and innovation landscape is enriched when we are free to build…

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