Public Domain Guidelines

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Use Guidelines

information-only draft


Purpose:  The purpose of these Use Guidelines is to articulate a set of core principles that providers and users of material in the public domain may draw upon when forging their own community-based use guidelines for the sharing and reuse of public domain works. These guidelines are suggestions and intended to serve as a starting point for others' discussions and consideration. They are a product of multiple conversations that Creative Commons staff has had with different communities interested in establishing use guidelines. These Use Guidelines are not intended to be definitive in any way, nor a formal statement of principles submitted for public comment. They are instead provided for the sole purpose of sharing with our broader community the lessons CC has derived from those many conversations To this end, these Use Guidelines may apply to greater and lesser degrees depending on the needs of particular user groups and communities, or they may not apply at all.  It is anticipated that user groups and communities may choose not to adopt all of the guidelines (or none), and may refine those that are adopted to suit particular needs (though not in a way that changes their non binding status).

Use:  These guidelines are intended for use with content in the public domain.  By public domain work, we mean a work that has no known, current copyright restrictions on its use, for whatever reason. Among others, a work may be in the public domain because the term of copyright has expired, the rights holder failed to register or renew copyright (where required), copyright protection was voluntarily surrendered (through the use of CC0 or otherwise), or the work does not constitute copyrightable subject matter.

Non Binding:  These guidelines are voluntary and non binding.  This means they are not legally enforceable when associated with a public domain work, whether as a license, contract or other legal instrument, or under any legal theory.  Instead, they are intended to be associated with “good citizenship,” professional ethics, and social responsibility.  Therefore, however these guidelines are implemented or refined, no covenants, contract terms or other legally enforceable conditions should be placed on the use of the public domain work beyond those that involve legal disclaimers, or as may be required by applicable law.

0.  Give credit where credit is due.
Whenever a public domain work is used, the author(s) (if known) should be cited.  Citation may be made in accordance with any relevant scientific, scholarly, disciplinary or community practice.  Additionally, if a public domain work has been curated or made available by a person other than the author, that provider should also be appropriately credited.  

1.  Provide original source information.
When redistributing all or part of a public domain work in modified or unmodified form, its source ("provenance") should be identified in accordance with any recognized standards in the applicable field or community, or by the means recommended by the provider.  This usually includes providing a link back to the website page (if any) where the work was originally discovered, and making the link reasonably prominent and accessible to users.  If the work has been curated and the curator has associated identifying information with the work, such as catalogue data or information about its inclusion in a collection, then provenance information should include that associated identification.

2.  Show respect for the original work.
When a public domain work is modified and redistributed, any modifications made to the original should be clearly identified and the modified work should be labeled as having been modified, so that users are not confused as to the source of modifications.  If the provider of a public domain work has requested that no modifications be made, or that the work be used consistent with identified quality control requirements, then users should consider observing the request.  

3.  Preserve public domain marks and notices.
Users of a public domain work should not remove any public domain mark or notice that has been applied, or provide misleading information about its copyright status.  

4.  Protect the reputation of authors and providers.
Whenever a public domain work is used or modified, the use or modification should not be attributed to the author or the provider of the work.  The trademarks, name, or logos of the author or provider should not be used to endorse (or imply origin of) the public domain work without consent.  

5.  Contribute discoveries back.
Users of a public domain work who generate new discoveries or works, or who add value to a public domain work, should release the discoveries, modifications or additions into the public domain through CC0 or an equivalent tool.  

6.  Share knowledge.
When the user of a public domain work has additional information about the work (such as details about its provenance, author, content or other possible rights holders), the user should share that knowledge.  This may include tagging, annotating or commenting on a public domain work that is published online.  

7.  Maximize a work's potential.
When a public domain work exists in multiple formats or media, it should be made available in the preferred format for maximizing accessibility, use and modification.  

8.  Support efforts to enrich the public domain.
Users of public domain works should support the efforts of the work's provider to preserve, care for, digitize and/or make available public domain works.  This support should include monetary contributions, particularly when the work is being used for commercial or other for-profit purposes and the provider is a public or non profit institution.

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