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Copyright Resources

What is the Public Domain?

The Public Domain is the term used to describe the set of works not protected by copyright law. It is the name for those works that are held in common by the public and can be used freely as a resource for new knowledge (Berkman Center for Internet and Society). 

A work is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it does not meet the requirements for copyright protection.

The Public Domain includes:

  • Works published in the U.S. prior to 1923
  • Works whose copyright has expired or was not renewed
  • Works which do not qualify for copyright protection
  • Works created by U.S. Government employess in the scope of their employment. 

Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner (U.S. Copyright Office). It is highly recommended that you give proper attribution, however.

Digital Copyright Slider

This tool can help you determine if a work is in the public domain.

Tales From the Public Domain: Bound By Law?

Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins navigate the world of copyright, fair use, and the public domain in this 2006 grahic novel published by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Read the free online version!

Bound By Law book and cover art available under a CC-BY-NC license. 

Public Domain Resources