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Copyright Guide: Public Domain

The Public Domain

What is the public domain?

Public domain works are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Public domain status allows the user unrestricted access and unlimited creativity!

There are three main categories of public domain works:

  • Works that automatically enter the public domain upon creation, because they are not copyrightable:Works that have been assigned to the public domain by their creators
    • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans, familiar symbols, numbers
    • Ideas and facts (e.g., the date of the Gettysburg Address)
    • Processes and systems
    • Government works and documents1
  • Works that have entered the public domain because the copyright on them has expired

(Note: Use of some works, such as ideas and symbols, may be restricted by other laws, such as patent, trademark, or trade secret.)

What works have expired into the public domain?

  • All works published in the U.S. before 1923
  • All works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1963 without copyright renewal
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989, and without subsequent registration within 5 years

Congress has passed a series of laws extending the term of copyright. Currently, the default term is life of the author plus 70 years. That means that most of the copyrighted works created from the late 1970s to the present may not become public domain during your lifetime.

In general, works published after 1977 will not fall into the public domain until 70 years after the death of author, or, for corporate works, anonymous works, or works for hire, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

ABSOLUTELY FREE! MUSIC, TEXT, AND ART!! COPY ALL YOU WANT!! If you saw an advertisement like this, you might wonder, “What’s the catch?” When it comes to the public domain, there is no catch. If a book, song, movie, or artwork is in the public domain, then it is not protected by intellectual property laws (copyright, trademark, or patent laws)—which means it’s free for you to use without permission.

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923 or works published before 1964 for which copyrights were not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without a copyright notice, which was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989. Some works are in the public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection. As discussed throughout this chapter, the rules establishing the public domain status for each of these types of works are different.

- See more at: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/public-domain/#sthash.WFsXRqdg.dpuf

Where can I find Public Domain Works?

Where can I find public domain works?

The sites below will guide you to a cultural wealth of public domain books, images, illustrations, audio, and films where the copyright term has expired or the creator has not renewed the license. Remember, public domain works are free and available for unrestricted use. Enjoy and be creative!