Economic & Social Research Council

The Value of Public Domain Works

This knowledge exchange project, awarded in summer 2013, will bring together stakeholders from the creative industries, academia and government to explore how economic value might be created by exploiting cultural works that are in the public domain.

The value of public domain content is worth exploring in the context of a shift toward co-production and co-creation of value involving the re-appropriation of intellectual property by fans (Benkler, 2005). One weakness of commercially licensed IP is that the legal arrangements that enable the creation of new texts are often restrictive and prevent audiences from being able to involve themselves as co-creators of the intertext. Public domain intertexts such as Sherlock Holmes are by necessity open to reinterpretation and remix by fans, a status that – while fans may not be aware of the legal underpinnings – may contribute to their appeal and further commercial popularity (Jenkins, 2003; Erickson & Kretschmer, 2012).

The researchers seek to ascertain whether media producers are aware of the opportunities presented by the public domain, and if so, what might be the barriers to exploitation of PD material. Do media producers and business managers worry about overgrazing of the public domain as suggested by economic theory? What are the mechanisms by which media producers can effectively leverage public domain IP? The proposed project will provide a context in which to explore these questions and share results among commercial and government stakeholders.