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Copyright Resources: Public Domain

A guide to provide clear and concise information on copyright law and fair use.

Is it Protected by Copyright?

This tool will show if a work published in the United States is in the Public Domain.

Copyright Terms & Public Domain

Copyright Terms and Public Domain

This table can help determine whether a work is in the public domain in the United States.  It is used here with permission from the Copyright Information Center at Cornell University and created by Peter B. Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor to Cornell University Library.

Public Domain FAQs

#1:  What is Public Domain?

  • Material not in Copyright or no longer Copyrighted.  
  • Examples include:
    • Most federal documents
    • Works with expired Copyrights
    • Works for which creators/owners have given up the rights
    • Things that cannot be Copyrighted -- names, short phrases, titles, ideas, and facts
    • Works published in 1923 or before

#2:  Can I use it?

  • It is free to use but there are restrictions such as plagiarism and copyright infringements
    • Plagiarism is when you borrow from another work without giving credit
    • Copyright infringement occurs when a substantial amount of a work is used without permission

#3:  Can a work be public domain in one country and Copyright protected in another?

  • Yes.  In some cases, a work can be in the public domain in the United States, but when it's distributed overseas, the laws of that particular country where the item is received apply.

Creative Commons Explained

A Shared Culture by Jesse Dylan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. Please link to this page when providing attribution.

Creatvie Commons Licensing

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view this license, go to http://bit.ly/OIgYRT.