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|
|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|Unpublished works||Life of the author + 70 years||Works from authors who died before 1937|
|Unpublished anonymous works||120 years from date of creation||Works created before 1887|
|Unpublished works created before 1978 and published between 1977 and 2003||Life of the author + 70 years or December 31, 2047 -- whichever is greater||None in public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|Unpublished works created before 1978 but published after 2002||Life of the author + 70 years||Works from authors who died before 1937|
|Unpublished works when the death of the author is unknown||120 years from date of creation||Works created before 1887|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