Crowd-sourcing is an organization model that harnesses the power of crowds to solve problems (crowd wisdom), to fund initiatives (crowd funding), or to produce artworks (crowd creation). This model is increasingly implemented by businesses and by not-for-profit organizations. It has already produced astonishing results in the fields of information technology and biotechnology.[1]

In particular, the concept of building upon collective intelligence to perform legally binding searches of information has been successfully applied in patent law.[2] Crowd-sourced systems of prior art searches have been used by patent offices, including the US Patents and Trademark Office and the IP Australian Office. Recently the UK Intellectual Property Office has also run a pilot “peer to patent” experiment aimed at sourcing prior art investigation through observations on patent applications by the research and technology communities through the Internet. The information collected from the public helps patent examiners determining if a patent application is for a new and inventive invention. This pilot experience was judged useful and time-saving in the context of UK patent examination.[3] In a similar vein, NGOs that oppose patenting in certain fields, such as biotechnology or information technology, have relied on similar systems to search prior art capable of destroying the novelty of patent applications.[4] In the specific field of cultural heritage, a resourceful initiative by the British Library, the Mechanical Curator, enables crowd-sourced classification of images, which in turn are offered for free reutilization to users.[5]

Crowd-sourcing can help gathering information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to collect. In particular in the field of cultural artefacts, information necessary to right clearance can be complex and dispersed in various channels. This is notably the case with the information necessary to carry out diligent searches on works, such as: who is the author, when did the author die, to whom have the rights being transferred? The relevance of this information to ascertain the legal status—in-copyright, out-of-copyright, “orphan”—varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and for categories of works, depending on the copyright duration and on the laws governing orphan and out-of-print works. The search therefore cannot be carried out without specialised legal guidance.

EnDOW draws upon diluted and dispersed information on cultural artefacts with the aim of transforming it into a reliable and legally valid source to perform diligent searches on works in order to determine their copyright status. To this end, EnDOW applies the concept of crowd-sourcing to copyright search, building on the assumption that public participation may work well in the context of cultural heritage. Mass digitisation and access to 20th Century cultural heritage will benefit first and foremost the public at large and will foster unprecedented circulation and creation of cultural products. This is a great incentive for the public to collaborate and to make this happen. In fact, collaborative user-generated platforms have already proved a successful model for culture and information sharing as the Wikipedia experience shows. On the other hand, cultural institutions have a strong incentive to participate in a programme that reduces costs of clearing rights, enhances public participation, and eventually empowers sustainable use and management of the cultural heritage items contained in their collections.


[1] Prpic, J. and Shukla, P. (2013) ‘The Theory of Crowd Capital’, IEEE Computer Society Press, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: <>

[2] Noveck, B.S. (2006) “Peer to Patent: Collective Intelligence, Open Review, and Patent Reform’ Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 20/1.

[3] UKIPO 2012. Results of the Peer to Patent experiment are available at <>, at 17 (accessed 24-09-14).

[4] Noveck 2006, supra n. 29.

[5] <> (last accessed September 2014).

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