Posted by: bluesyemre | June 29, 2021

Public Domain Tool: can you share your collection?

One of meemoo’s key tasks is to help make content accessible. In particular, collections that belong in the public domain should be digitally available as much as possible. But how do you know which parts of your collection belong in the public domain? The Public Domain Tool gives collection managers a helping hand in ascertaining the copyright status of pieces in your collections.

Why is it important to ascertain the rights status?

Martin Bisof mbisof, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright protection doesn’t last forever. Within the European Union, creative works enter the public domain 70 years after the death of their longest-living creator. This means you don’t need permission from the creators, or their representatives or heirs, to reuse the work once this milestone has been reached. Knowing whether something is protected by copyright or not (anymore) is therefore essential for anyone who wants to work with their collections in a correct and proper way.


In order to make collection pieces available in the public domain as much as possible, while respecting copyright protection for other items in the collections, it’s essential to know their rights status. Establishing the rights status of collection pieces is a very time-consuming task, especially when you need to approach it one piece of work at a time. We therefore want to help you with our detailed knowledge and the right tools.

There is often lots of information available that can help to partially automate ascertaining the rights status. Consider the date of creation or the year the creator died, for example. This tool takes a chunk of manual work off your hands by intelligently combining data from your management system with information from Wikidata, giving you faster insights into the copyright status for (at least part of) your collection.


We started developing this Public Domain Tool in 2020, and our first testers started using it in November of that year. Based on their findings, we will further refine the tool. Early February, we launched a beta version of the tool that is available to everyone.

How does it work?

The tool is primarily intended for collection managers from professional museums, archives and heritage bodies, among others.

  1. Your starting point is always a CSV export for part of your collection. You want to ascertain the copyright status of this data. TIP: The more accurate information you already have in your management system, the better the quality of the results you get from the tool.
  2. The Public Domain Tool matches the input from your CSV file about makers of your collection pieces with items in Wikidata.
  3. You then receive an enriched CSV file in your inbox.
  4. You can approve or reject the matches presented before reloading the updated CSV file.
  5. The tool uses the work’s date of creation and possibly the matched maker’s year of death to determine whether a collection piece belongs to the public domain or is copyright protected.

The tool will also add any extra information contained in your CSV file to Wikidata during this process, to improve the quality of future comparisons. So it’s a win-win, because it makes your work a little easier and other people’s work a little easier too! Basically, there are lots of benefits to using the Public Domain Tool: the tool gets better the more it is used, the data in Wikidata becomes richer, you link your data on Wikidata to other people’s data, and you receive CSV files back with enriched metadata that you can in turn add to your management system.

It should also be noted that other rights can come into play here alongside copyrights, such as portrait rights, which you of course also need to take into account.

Do you want to read about the workings of the tool in more detail? Visit the website >>

Our role

We’re developing this tool for the Flanders Department of Culture, Youth and Media, in the framework of the strategic vision paper: A Flemish cultural policy in the digital era (in Dutch only). Corecrew took care of the technical development and CopyClear helped us to improve the Wikidata input on the copyright status of creators from Flemish collections using bots.


Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en MediaDo you have a question?Contact Bart MagnusExpertise Officer

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