Public domain


November 28, 2021

The term public domain generally indicates the complex and the entirety of the works (and in particular of the information) which, after the term of the legal protection has elapsed, can be freely used, without requesting authorizations or paying any compensation.


The evolution of the concept took place in Europe from the end of the eighteenth century, when more and more countries began to develop rules to protect the creators of works of art and ingenuity; the question of the public domain is in fact of importance not only in the matter of literary property and therefore of copyright in the strict sense, but also in relation to the rights on designs and inventions (with the development of legislation on trademarks and patents). If before this phase the term "public domain" primarily indicated what is now more easily recognizable in the notion of state property, that is, a complex of property and property rents belonging to the state, with the progressive articulation of the protections guaranteed by the legal systems to authors, inventors and other creators of works, the original meaning of the term was therefore joined by the one prevalent today. Around 1860, the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française provided the following definition: Some of the most important passages on the subject occurred as mentioned starting from the end of the eighteenth century; at that time the regulations generally provided protection for authors only for the most serious and obvious offenses, such as plagiarism, and all the protections took into good consideration, together with those of the authors, the rights of printers, forerunners of the modern figure of 'publisher. In Italy, however, as early as 1536 one of the juridical-literary works that contributed most to the development of similar rules had already been written, the essay De rebus et dispositionibus dubiis (Of things and dubious provisions) by Alberto Bruno da Asti ; this jurist, with reference to the then already "flourishing" activity of the unauthorized reprinting of the works of others, suggested that it was not allowed to profit from the damage of others, underlining the risk that for fear of abuse and reprints, the Writers were unwilling to publish the works them and invoking appropriate provisions by the emperor or the pope so that a just remuneration was guaranteed for the labors of the intellect. We began to investigate the nature of that receptacle into which all the unprotected intellectual product would flow, even if not yet organically with the name in the public domain. But the nascent idea of ​​literary property was not yet talked about in legal terms of ownership (quiritaria or bonitaria), or at least not in terms of general sharing, indeed there were many refutations to the claim of a similar identifiability of the rights due to the author. (which as mentioned by Bruno himself had precedents in Roman law only in the case of the "prize" received by Appio for the publication of his works). Precisely since the public domain was the place that welcomed what was not absorbed by the rights of exclusive exploitation of the work guaranteed to the authors, the hypotheses of classification of these rights as forms of ownership conditioned, as indeed still today, the reflections on nature public domain law. While the doctrine was elaborating, in England in 1557 the Stationers' Company (Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers) was granted a real monopoly on all works, whose publication rights could be exchanged only between the members of the Company; this was devised in such a way as to ensure the exclusion of the authors from the group of members, with the consequence that self-publication was in fact impossible. The company had sectoral regulatory power and perhaps its best known standard is

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