Last week, The Samuelson Law Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law announced the release of "Is It In the Public Domain?" This is a handbook, along with some very helpful visual aids, that can help you figure out whether a work created between 1923 and 1977 is in the public domain and therefore free of copyright restrictions.
Why is this an important tool? Well, as anyone who has attempted to figure out whether an older work is actually in the public domain can tell you, it is no easy task. While there are other tools out there that can give you a basic approximation of public domain status, nothing else out there (to my knowledge) does so with the level of detail and accuracy that could actually be relied upon. In an era when universities, schools, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions are seeking to find digital means to preserve and give access to cultural heritage via "mass digitization" projects, and are confronting the complex copyright issues and risks involved in such an endeavor, tools like the Clinic's Public Domain Handbook are incredibly valuable.
I am proud to say that this is one of the projects I worked on while I was a Teaching Fellow at the Clinic, and I am so pleased that our client, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Legacy Project, was willing to make this tool available to the public. They are an inspiring group of people to work with, and this is just one more contribution they have made to making the world a better place.