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Copyright Center: Public Domain (FY 07-08)

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Public Domain

PUBLIC DOMAIN

What is the Public Domain? 

"The realm embracing property rights that belong to the community at large, are unprotected by copyright or patent, and are subject to appropriation by anyone." ~ Encyclopedia Britannica Online.  In other words, public domain is any creative work not protected by copyright which can be used freely by anyone without having to obtain copyright permission.  The most common reason for items included in the public domain is because the copyright expired or the material is so old that it is no longer covered by intellectual copyright laws.  For example, any work published in the United States before 1923 is in the public domain.  Another reason for material in the public domain could be because the copyright did not get renewed, or perhaps the publisher wanted the work to be included in the public domain.

 

What items are included in the Public Domain?  Please see the following chart.  To view the PDF version click here.

Material Published in the United States
Date of Publication Conditions Copyright Term
Before 1923 None In public domain
1923 - 1977 Published without copyright notice In public domain
1978 - March 1, 1989 Published without notice and without subsequent registration In public domain
1978 - March 1, 1989 Published without notice but with subsequent registration 70 years after death of author
1923 - 1963 Published with notice but copyright was not renewed In public domain
1923 - 1963 Published with notice but copyright was renewed 95 years after publication date
1964 - 1977 Published with copyright notice 95 years after publication date
1978 - March 1, 1989 Published with copyright notice 70 years after death of author
Unpublished Material
Type of Work Copyright Term In Public Domain As of January 1, 2007
Unpublished works Life of the author + 70 years Works from authors who died before 1937
Unpublished anonymous works 120 years from date of creation Works created before 1887
Unpublished works created before 1978 and published between 1977 and 2003 Life of the author + 70 years or December 31, 2047 -- whichever is greater None in public domain.  Works can pass into the public domain on January 1, 2048 at the earliest
Unpublished works created before 1978 but published after 2002 Life of the author + 70 years Works from authors who died before 1937
Unpublished works when the death of the author is unknown 120 years from date of creation Works created before 1887
This chart is based in part on Cornell University Copyright Center, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States at: https://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm which is governed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License 3.0.

Bellevue University Library Resources:

Fishman, Stephen (2007). The public domain: how to find and use copyright-free writings, music, art, & more (3rd ed.).  Ebrary: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/bellevue/Doc?id=10129020

Wilson, Lee (2003).  The copyright guide (3rd ed.).  KF2995 W475 2003

 Useful Links:

    Cornell University's Public Domain Chart  

    Digital Copyright Slider

    Public Domain Music Reference Site

    Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use Center and the Public Domain

    University of California Copyright & Public Domain  

    When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain Chart