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These Public Domain Mark FAQs contain information that you should familiarize yourself with before applying the Public Domain Mark (“PDM”) to a work, or before using a work that is marked with the PDM. The information provided below is not exhaustive – it may not cover important issues that could affect you.

These FAQs are intended to supplement, not replace, our existing FAQs and our CC0 FAQs. You are encouraged to review those FAQs before using the PDM or any of our other legal tools or licenses. You should also read the PDM deed carefully, as well as the information linked to from the deed. The deed and supplemental information contain important information about the work that has been marked, and should be fully understood before you apply it to a work or use a PDM-marked work.

Please note: Creative Commons does not provide legal advice. The information provided below is not a substitute for legal advice and is not complete. Please consult your own legal advisor if you have any questions or concerns about the information provided below, about the Public Domain Mark or about Creative Commons licenses and tools generally.

Questions about the Public Domain Mark generally

What is the Public Domain Mark?

The Public Domain Mark (“PDM”) is a tool that allows anyone to mark and tag a work that is free of known copyright restrictions worldwide, all in a way that clearly communicates that status to the public and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or our licenses; there is no accompanying legal code or agreement. It should only be used to label a work that is already free of known copyright restrictions around the world, typically very old works. It should not be used to attempt to change a work’s current status under copyright law, or affect any person’s rights in a work. Just like CC0 and our licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works properly tagged to be readily discovered over the Internet.

How does it work?

Anyone can use the PDM to mark a work that is free of known copyright restrictions. Information about the work, its author(s), and the person marking the work should be embedded in the HTML generated for the work. When supplied, this information may help users of the work evaluate the copyright status of the work for themselves, and learn more about the work. Again, please keep in mind that the PDM does not affect the legal status of the work or the legal rights of the author, the person identifying it or others. The PDM serves a marking and labeling function only.

What is the difference between the PDM and CC0?

PDM and CC0 differ in important respects and have distinct purposes. CC0 is intended for use only by authors or holders of copyright and related or neighboring rights (including sui generis database rights), in connection with works that are still subject to those rights in one or more jurisdictions. PDM, on the other hand, can be used by anyone, and is intended for use with works that are already free of known copyright restrictions throughout the world.

The tools also differ in terms of their effect when applied to a work. CC0 is legally operative in the sense that when it is applied, it changes the copyright status of the work, effectively relinquishing all copyright and related or neighboring rights worldwide. PDM is not legally operative in any respect – it is intended to function as a label, marking a work that is already free of known copyright restrictions worldwide. Learn more about CC0.

Can I use the PDM with data, such as metadata? What about databases?

Yes, PDM can be applied to any work that is free of known copyright restrictions. This means, for example, that you can use PDM to mark metadata, which is data about data, if the metadata is not copyrightable or otherwise free of copyright. For example, whether or not a photograph is still protected by copyright, metadata that describes the photograph may be unprotected by copyright. In that instance, PDM could be applied to the metadata itself.

PDM can also be applied to databases that are not protected by copyright, including databases containing metadata. The treatment of databases under copyright law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however, sometimes dramatically. Additionally, databases are also granted sui generis protection in some jurisdictions, which may limit the ability to extract and/or reuse information from the database even if the information itself in the public domain. If you are uncertain whether a database is protected by copyright around the world, then you should not mark the database itself with the PDM, but could use PDM to mark unprotected content in the database.

If you are the creator or maker of a database and want to ensure that anyone can freely extract and reuse content (subject, of course, to other rights that may apply to the contents of the database such as a photograph still under copyright), then you may wish to consider using CC0 to waive all of your copyright and sui generis database rights in the database itself. In all cases, clearly marking and labeling the works to which PDM and CC0 apply is important.

What about CC’s Public Domain Dedication and Certification? Can that tool still be used?

With the launch of the PDM, Creative Commons is officially deprecating its Public Domain Dedication and Certification (“PDDC”). CC no longer recommends the PDDC for use in any situation. The PDDC had served the dual purposes of allowing a copyright holder to dedicate a work to the public domain, and to mark and certify a work as being in the public domain. We discovered that having a single tool performing both functions was confusing, among other things. In early 2008, we published CC0 to take on the dedication function the PDDC had been performing. We announced at that time that we would be working to improve the way people mark or “tag” a work with information relevant to a work’s public domain status. The PDM is that improved tool. The PDM now assumes the marking and tagging function previously served by PDDC, thereby replacing the PDDC as the recommended tool of choice for doing so.

For those who have used the PDDC to date, you can remain confident that CC will continue to support and serve the PDDC deed.

If you need to certify your public domain dedication, you may visit a service provider such as RegisteredCommons.

Questions for those thinking about applying the PDM to a work

Who can apply the Public Domain Mark to a work?

Anyone who believes a work is free of known copyright restrictions may use the PDM. Keep in mind, however, that the PDM is recommended only for works that are free of known copyright restrictions around the world. You should not apply the PDM to works that you know are only in the public domain in a limited number of jurisdictions. We anticipate that most of the time, the PDM in its current form will only be applied to very old works.

If I apply the PDM to a work, am I warranting or promising that the work is free of copyright around the world?

No, not unless the law otherwise provides or you want to provide a separate warranty to that effect. Like all CC legal tools, the PDM deed includes express disclaimers of warranties and liabilities, to the extent those are enforceable under applicable laws. Additionally, the PDM deed puts users on notice that the work may not be free of copyright restrictions in all jurisdictions. That notice is intended to caution would-be users of the work that it can be difficult to account for all laws and all possible underlying factual circumstances that impact the copyright status of a particular work in every jurisdiction.

Notwithstanding the disclaimers and notice, if you know that a work you would like to mark is still in copyright in one or more jurisdictions, please do not apply the PDM. We are working on other means for marking works that are in the public domain in some jurisdictions while still restricted by copyright in others, and hope to publish that soon.

Does the PDM require those using a work I have marked to give me credit? Or the author?

No, there is no credit or attribution requirement, either for the person marking the work or the original author of the work. However, this does not mean that you cannot ask others to give you credit for your effort digitizing and/or marking the work in accordance with community or professional norms and standards.

Questions for those thinking about using a PDM-marked work

Can anyone use a work that is marked using the PDM?

Yes, the PDM doesn’t restrict who may use a marked work. Generally, any work free of copyright restrictions can be used for any purpose, even commercial purposes, without asking anyone’s permission first. Note, however, that the PDM deed identifies some important caveats under Other Information that all would-be users of the work should understand. Among others, it’s possible that a work marked using PDM is not free of all copyright restrictions in all jurisdictions around the world, or that other laws outside of copyright restrict how the work may be used. Read more about these possibilities and others, below.

If you are in doubt about whether or how you can use a PDM-marked work, you should consult with your legal advisor.

Am I really free to use a work marked with the PDM anyway I want, anywhere in the world?

Like all works that are labeled “free of known copyright restrictions,” “in the public domain” or similar – including works published on the Flickr Commons, museum or library websites or elsewhere – the answer is simple: “It depends.” In this one respect, PDM is no different than any other public domain marking system. That said, one of the most important advantages PDM has over other systems is that the deed alerts would-be users of a work to some of the important, potential limitations on their ability to use the work.

These potential limitations and caveats are highlighted on the PDM deed under Other Information. Users are strongly encouraged to review and understand those in advance of using a PDM-marked work (or any other work characterized as part of the public domain, for that matter).

Why might a free of copyright restrictions in one jurisdiction not be free of copyright restrictions everywhere?

Copyright laws around the world vary; there is no harmonized or standardized copyright law that all jurisdictions follow for purposes of determining when a work is no longer restricted by copyright. Additionally, circumstances causing a work to become part of the public domain under the laws of one jurisdiction may not cause a similar result under others’ laws. Thus, the identical work may be restricted by copyright in some jurisdictions while free of copyright in others.

A work may have this limited or “hybrid” public domain status for a variety of reasons. Some jurisdictions have unusually long copyright terms, which may mean that a work free from copyright restrictions most everywhere else in the world may still be protected by the copyright laws of that particular country. Sometimes a work is no longer restricted by copyright in a jurisdiction because the author or owner failed to comply with formalities such as renewal of registration or publication with notice, where those formalities apply. It could also be the case that certain categories of works are not protected by copyright by operation of law in a particular jurisdiction, but may be afforded protection under the copyright laws of other jurisdictions. This is the case, for example, with U.S. government works.

CC does not recommend the current version of PDM for works with are in public domain in some jurisdictions but known to be restricted by copyright in others. Even when this recommendation is followed, however, you should be aware that the possibility still exists. We choose to alert would-be users to that possibility up front, however remote it may be.

What practices do those who apply PDM to works use to arrive at a determination that a work is free of known copyright?

That will depend. CC has not established standards, expectations or even suggested practices for those choosing to apply the mark. Nor are we qualified to do so. Every institution and individual applying the mark must exercise their own judgment for marking works they wish to indicate are free of known copyright. Our hope is that those practices will be published widely and made transparent so that would-be users of PDM-marked works are able to understand the review that was undertaken. We also encourage potential users of PDM-marked works to inquire about those practices with the identifying institution or individual if they want to know more.

Unless otherwise stated to the contrary, however, the person applying the PDM to a work is not guaranteeing anything about it, including what processes or diligence they engaged in before applying the PDM to a work. Creative Commons does not verify the copyright status of works to which the Public Domain Mark has been applied.

Are there other laws I should be aware of that might restrict my ability to use a PDM-marked work?

Probably. PDM is focused exclusively on copyright law and related and neighboring rights. It does not address the applicability (or inapplicability) of other laws, except to alert users that use of the work may be otherwise regulated or limited. For example, if the work contains an image or likeness of a person or their voice, privacy or publicity rights may be implicated in some jurisdictions. Similarly, personal data protections laws could come into play depending on the nature of the work, its contents and the particular jurisdiction.

The freedom that comes with using a work in the public domain doesn’t extend to uses that may violate other applicable laws. Just as with works licensed under a CC license, you should be cognizant of other laws that may apply to your particular uses of a work.

Am I required to attribute the author of the work, or the person who applied the PDM to the work?

No, there is no legal requirement that you credit the author of the original work or the person who identified the work, only a request that you do so voluntarily if requested and the means are provided for doing so.

For purposes of author/work citation, the PDM deed provides HTML code that can be copy and pasted into a webpage to easily cite the author and the work if the person who marked the worked provided that information. We encourage you to take advantage of this copy/paste citation feature whenever possible.

How can I be sure that I can use the work as I would like?

The Public Domain Mark contains a disclaimer of warranties just like our licenses and CC0, so there is no assurance whatsoever that the work is free of all copyright restrictions in every jurisdiction around the world just because the mark is applied. You should also be aware of restrictions or limitations beyond copyright that may apply, such privacy, publicity, personal data laws and the like.

If you are in doubt, then we strongly recommend you not use the work until you have taken all the steps and precautions you feel you need to before doing so, which may include contacting the person who applied the PDM to the work and consulting legal counsel.