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“Create your own” through the public domain

Camphur illustration

Illustration of a “Camphur” by Abroise Paré, 1598 (Bibliothéque nationale de France) from the PDR Coloring Book, vol. 2

In these articles we often highlight open access scholarly books and articles as resources which might support our faculty and students research and learning. However, there is also a rich history of taking public domain materials and using them to generate new creative works. Public domain materials are not the same as open access materials, which can still be under copyright, but the lack of copyright in public domain materials makes it much easier to use the entire piece in a new creative work. One of the most well-known examples of using public domain materials for new works is the Walt Disney Corporation’s retelling of classic fairy tales; however, many others also use public domain materials in their creative works.

For example, The Public Domain Review has taken images from twenty artists and used them to create a coloring book which can be downloaded and printed free of charge. Colored images can then be uploaded to social media with the #isolationcoloration and #pdrcoloringbook hashtags. Other images have been made freely available as Zoom backgrounds for users who wish to spice up their next online meeting with a background from Bosch or a crater on the moon.

For the past two years the technology blog Techdirt has held a contest to create games from materials that have entered the public domain. The Gaming Like It’s 1923 and Gaming Like It’s 1924 contests allowed participants to submit their games which used some element of a work that had entered the public domain that year. Winners used a variety of materials in interesting ways, with 1924 winner “The 24th Kandinsky” allowing players to use visual elements of 23 paintings by Wassily Kandinsky to create a new 24th painting.

Others make public domain written works more accessible by reformatting them into audiobooks. LibriVox is a non-commercial project where volunteers create audiobooks of public domain printed materials. The audiobooks can then be downloaded and played for free. Many popular books have multiple versions with different narrators, and books are available in a wide variety of languages. Librivox recently celebrated its 14,000th free audiobook, and will have more opportunities to increase accessibility as more materials enter the public domain.

Items in ISU ReD are generally not in the public domain, and authors retain their copyright unless they make specific arrangements otherwise. Anyone wishing to make their own materials digitally available can often place pre-prints or even published articles and materials on institutional repositories such as ISU ReD. If you wish to discuss these options further, for current or already published research, please contact isured@IllinoisState.edu.

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