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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday February 24, 2020

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Sebastiaan ter Burg

Sebastiaan ter Burg

Knowledge Development Specialist , Europeana Foundation

Celebrating the public domain - plan your year!

As Europeana Pro’s focus on the public domain draws to a close, Sebastiaan ter Burg looks back on a year of events celebrating the public domain in the Netherlands and provides inspiration on how you can already start your planning to celebrate the public domain in 2021!

main image
Publiek Domeindag 2020
Sebastiaan Ter Burg
January 10 2020
CC BY 2.0

Looking back on world-wide celebrations 

2020 has seen multiple activities celebrating the public domain take place across the globe. Each event had its own unique way of engaging with communities, showcasing works and sharing knowledge. 

Many institutions worked directly with public domain content by releasing new works online or updating the online rights statement of works that entered the public domain; the National Library of Germany.provides a good example. Some institutions organised remix workshops, and there were many social media campaigns around the importance of posting public domain works, such as this example from Wikimedia Poland

Other events included Wikipedia and Wikidata edit-a-thons, conferences and presentations, as in this example from in The Netherlands. A photowalk in Ghana where people took photos of buildings whose designs are in the public domain, was another innovative way to celebrate the public domain! We also saw award ceremonies which recognised people who have contributed to improving access to open information and public domain material. 

The Dutch example: a step-by-step guide

Public Domain Day in the Netherlands is organised by a working group, which is already looking ahead to 2021. Our year-round activities, which start in the spring, go through several steps to help GLAMs identify works in their collections that enter the public domain in the upcoming year. They also help us to plan a celebration of the public domain in January. If you work in the cultural heritage sector and would like to work to make your public domain collections available, or organise an event to celebrate the public domain, the model provided below is a great place to start!


  • In the spring, we begin by looking for potential makers and authors whose works might be about to enter the public domain. We work with institutions to help analyse their archives and look through their collections for artists who fit this criteria. Wikidata queries is especially useful for this. 

  • Once we have selected the artist we want to explore, we review their Wikipedia page. Wikidata can be used in other ways too - Belgium has made a query to search for the locations of artworks from a single artist, in this case James Ensor. Try the query yourself

  • To raise the understanding of the public domain among GLAM professionals, we also organise a public domain masterclass, where we look at the basics of copyright, creative Commons licenses and rights statements. We conduct a diligent search of rights holders and start to determine the entry into the public domain of certain works using a template created by Open Nederland


  • In the summer we dig deeper to identify the works we will focus on. At Open Nederland we have developed a public domain determination template for The Netherlands. The National Institute for Sound and Vision uses its own flowchart too, which is available in Dutch.

  • We also use the summer period to contact institutions that have artworks which will enter the public domain and organise speakers for our January event. 

Public Domainday discussion at the Creative Commons Global Summit 2019 in Lisbon
Sebastiaan Ter Burg
September 6 2019
CC BY 2.0


  • The autumn is the perfect time to narrow down the authors to focus on during a Public Domain celebration. We consider the following aspects: is there someone that is knowledgeable enough to talk about the artist and/or the works? How big has the impact been in the past of the artist and/or his works? Why is it important that these works will be in the public domain and what is their relevance today?

  • We start promoting our January event through social media, newsletters and communities from other organisations. The hashtags #PublicDomain and #PublicDomainday have been an effective way to share information internationally.

  • We organise a masterclass to showcase and teach institutions different sharing strategies. We talk about updating metadata and rights statements on collection websites, mass uploads to Wikimedia commons and the use of commercial content platforms like Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo andSoundcloud.


  • We support institutions in their last preparations before the artworks are shared in the first week of January and finalise preparations ahead of our event, which attracts around 60 to 70 visitors. 

  • After the event we put together the photos and presentations of that day (see 2020). We also do a quick review - what went well, what could be improved, what is the measurable and immeasurable impact that we’ve made in the entire process? This information is then used to make new plans for the upcoming year.

Join us in 2021!

I hope the information has given you new ideas to join us in celebrating the public domain in 2021! Our own ambition is to keep growing to involve more institutions and make more public domain works available. For 2021 we’re planning to stimulate reuse of newly available material with a remix competition., the international webpage for Public Domain celebrations, is still in its infancy, but with your help we can make it the central place with experiences, lessons learned and tips that could help others in organising an event. Another useful source is the @PublicDomainday twitter account. I would love to receive your input too and your plans for 2021 so don’t hesitate to get in contact!