At the start of every year, the cultural heritage world (along with many other sectors!) celebrates public domain day, as a variety of cultural heritage works that used to be protected by copyright enter the public domain. Exactly which works fall in the public domain is a difficult question to answer since legislation around copyright can be complex, specifically across borders. For European cultural heritage, most of the works that were created by authors that died in the year 1950 are now part of the Public Domain, as the general rule in the European Union is that if an author of a work has died more than 70 years ago, that work becomes part of the Public Domain.
The copyright status of works isn’t static and set in stone, and Public Domain Day is a yearly reminder of its ever-changing nature. The event invites us to re-evaluate the copyright status of works, update their status where needed and encourage other cultural heritage institutions to do the same for their collections. If you see a piece of cultural heritage that you expect to be in the public domain but has a different copyright status, it’s always a good idea to send the institution a friendly message asking them if the copyright tag on a piece of work is still valid, or if it needs updating!
Public Domain Day also gives us the opportunity to call attention to the value of digitising cultural heritage objects, and the opportunities for sharing and re-use of those objects that are created by making public domain cultural heritage available on platforms like Europeana. To celebrate this, we asked members of the Europeana Network Association Communicators and Copyright community Steering Groups to highlight a cultural heritage object in the public domain, and available for everyone through the Europeana website, that they find striking and wanted to share with others. Explore their picks below!
Peter Soemers, Chair of the Communicators Community: View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, Jacob van Ruisdael
I love this painting, because it presents a landscape and a cityscape in one, with a beautiful sky full of clouds. It sheds shadow and light on different places, helping your gaze to walk through the different stages of the image. It is highly ‘zoomable’, enabling a mystery tour of the landscape with meadows, houses, people, laundry, the churches, mills and houses of Haarlem, and the magnificent clouds.
Killian Downing, Communicators Community Co-Chair: Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
This albumen print shows the naturally forming basalt rocks of the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, c.1850–1870. This print is part of an album transferred to the Rijksmuseum in 1994 and is now available in the Public Domain. Irish mythology tells of the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill who built the Giant’s Causeway as stepping stones to Scotland, so that he wouldn’t get his feet wet. Legend has it Mac Cumhaill also ripped up part of Ireland, which is now Lough Neagh, to throw it at a rival giant, but it missed and it landed in the Irish Sea becoming the Isle of Man, and a pebble from the same becoming Rockall. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Susan Hazan, Communicators Community Co-Chair: Colosseum, Rome, Elias (Elie) Smalhout
How on earth did we manage without our smartphones? This drawing of the Colosseum provides us food for thought about time. Not just about the historical time reflected in the crumbling stones of the Roman ruins, but the time it takes to document the details in a hand-drawn sketch. The coloured charcoal draws us into the shadows to trace the arches and to delight in the light that dances off the smooth stonework. A celebration for the eye and the heart and an opportunity to appreciate the creativity of the artist and draftsman Elias (Elie) Smalhout (1889–1939).
Frederic Saunderson, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Medieval Irish Communal Drinking Cup or Mether
I am particularly fascinated by this example of a communal drinking cup in the context of our current world of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. What would the makers and users of this vessel have made of the limits placed on contact between people in today’s Europe? With its multiple handles, this drinking cup neatly allows the viewer to imagine a multitude of hands and their owners sharing a collective drink. This 3D rendering on Europeana makes engaging with this item all the more dynamic during our current era of lockdowns.
Marina Markellou, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Straw Hat of Nikolaos Lytras
This work is one of the most important drawings of early modernism in Greece but above all, it reminds me that summer is the best season of the year and summer in Greece is the best experience a person could ever have, especially in Tinos, the island of the artist. I look forward to a long-awaited summer there!
Evelin Heidel, Copyright Community Steering Group member: Mountain Meadow, Čordák, Ľudovít
There’s so much content in Europeana that I love. I use it all the time for different purposes, including slideshow presentations and flyers. Last year, we used several of the landscapes selected as part of the galleries & featured content for the Copyright Community and Open GLAM webinar series, as a background for our flyers.
Karin Glasemann, Chair of the Copyright Community: Girl Looking through a Telescope, Pietro Antonio Rotari
One of my all-time favourites is this painting. I like it because the girl seems full of curiosity and tries to see and understand things.
Jolan Wuyts, Europeana Foundation: Dog in the Woods, Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan
With the world being as crazy as it is lately, I’ve been finding solace and peace in artwork that emanates homeliness, hygge, friendship, calm. This ‘dog in the Woods’ by Weisz-Kubínčan is a perfect example of this. I’ve been hiking a lot this past year, and by escaping my home office I feel like I can let myself be enveloped by nature, in the same way that the dog in the painting takes on the same colours and lines as the mountains around it. Weisz-Kubínčan was an important Jewish expressionist painter from Slovakia, a brilliant artist whose works emanate mysticism. He perished in a concentration camp near the end of the Second World War. A large swath of his paintings was saved by being stored in a suitcase. An exhibition on Weisz-Kubínčan called Artist´s (Heavy) Luggage was set up by the Slovak National Gallery in 2019. Maybe this peaceful dog was also one of the works kept safe in that suitcase?