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Rights are country-specific, so there is no "one size fits all" discussion of this topic. Wikipedia begins the page on Public Domain with this paragraph:
|]Public Domain Mark 1.0|
"As rights are country-based and vary, a work may be subject to rights in one country and be in the public domain in another. Some rights depend on registrations on a country-by-country basis, and the absence of registration in a particular country, if required, creates public domain status for a work in that country."(Read more about the public domain on this page at Wikipedia.)
The Media Project Policy Blog of the London School of Economics posted a two part article by Melanie Dulong de Rosnay comparing default entitlements to information in the areas of copyright and data protection law., explaining the implications of the report and the relevant background:
"In theory, the concept of the public domain envisions information as belonging by default to society at large, providing an alternative to the usual entitlement to private persons. In copyright law, the notion of the Public Domain allows for the cancellation or limitation of default private entitlements, enabling the distribution and re-use of information without restrictions under certain circumstances." I urge you to read the entire article at this link. This is a complicated topic! What is in the public domain in the United States may or may not be so in the European Union. To learn about more specific differences between/among countries, read the Commons: Copyright rules by territory page on Wikipedia.
I will jump ahead (skipping for the moment the topic of how to find public domain images) for the purposes of this post: I have searched for and found this image for my article, which carries this tag: "This image identified by the The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions" I read on this page that "The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts content is now available for download and reuse. Although still technically in copyright in the UK (and a number of other common law territories) the images are being made available under a Public Domain Mark* which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site. The catalogue information is made available under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication."
How shall I cite this image, which, being in the public domain, does not require citation?
I look for models on the web: On the Future Learn site, it carries this description: "Edward III © British Library Board. From Nova Statuta c. 1451. Made available under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication".The image's Wikimedia page suggests using "By Anonymous [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" (with a link back to its page). Medievalists.net uses the image without citation or description, and eRoyalty.com uses it with this description: "Edward III Courtesy of British Library Illuminated Manuscript Collection" but no link back to the source.
Do I cite this public domain image in my work? Absolutely!
In the IB's publication "Effective citing and referencing" (August 2014) we read that "...when creating an authentic piece of work, we are expected to...acknowledge all contributing sources appropriately." Legally, one is not compelled to provide attribution when using an item from the public domain. It is common practice in academia, however, to show respect for others by providing attribution, even when using public domain material.
Many college and university library web pages offer help on finding and citing images: UCLA Library, Yale University Library, Sonoma University Library
Otis College of Art and Design Library offers an excellent guide on how to proceed:
- Determine the title of the work - You may have to create your own caption or description.
- Determine who created the work - artist, design, photographer, illustrator, etc. This can be difficult to find. If you are stuck, try looking at any embedded metadata in the image or try a reverse image search like TinEye or Google Search by Image.
- Determine who provided the image - Flickr, someone's blog or website, company's official website, stock photo, online photo collection, research database, museum website, etc. When possible, link to the original or definitive source, not the Pinterest board.
- Evaluate the image - Like other sources, images should be evaluated for quality. A photo of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre website will be more credible than one found on AllPosters.com or one of the first search results.
- Document where you found the image online - When possible, link to the page with the information about the image. Otherwise, link directly to the image. Also, write down the date you last accessed it successfully.
Detail of an Historiated Initial 'C'(ome) of Edward III, at the Beginning of His Statutes. From Nova Statuta , from Edward III to Henry VI, Ending in the Year 1451. between 1451 and c. 1480, bequeathed to the British Museum in 1941 by Mrs. Henry Yates Thompson. The British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, London. The British Library. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.