Most people seem to think of it as a vast stretch of land, with tumbleweeds of information blowing across it. But public domain does not mean “free for all.”
It actually is a very specific term that refers to works created by individuals or corporations whose copyright has expired.
Truly entering the public domain doesn’t happen overnight. Copyrighted works may enter the public domain 50 or more years after they were first published.
Most people are not aware that there is no such thing as copyright in the U.S. today that will last forever. The length of time a book, poem, or article is protected by copyright varies with year of publication.
What Is public domain
What Is public domain?
The word “public domain” refers to any work that is not covered by intellectual property rights (copyright, patents, trademarks and so on).
You’re free to use these works however you like, without having to ask for permission from the creator or paying a fee.
Titles and Words
If a book is in the public domain in the US, then the author has relinquished their copyright. This means that you are free to use those titles and words for your work.
For example, if you wanted to use Jane Austen’s title “Pride and Prejudice” as the title of your own novel, you would be able to do so without having to pay royalties or ask permission because Austen’s book is in the public domain in the United States.
Any musical piece written before 1923 is in the public domain. That means that you can take any piece of music composed before that date and turn it into a ringtone, video game soundtrack, or anything else you want without having to pay royalties or ask permission.
What Is The Public Domain?
Most works created by individuals will pass into the public domain 70 years after the death of their author. Corporate works pass into the public domain 95 years after creation or 95 years after publication for anonymous and pseudonymous works – whichever expires first.
Some countries have extended their copyright terms beyond those outlined above, and a few have even eliminated them altogether. Uruguay passed legislation in March 2014 eliminating copyrights on all works published in its country from March 1, 1996 onward.
The short definition of the Public Domain is that it is the collection of works that are not covered by copyright. Copyright law belongs to those who create intellectual property such as writings, artistic works, music, or computer code.
The creator of that work has the option of granting a license for others to use and distribute the work or to place the work in the public domain where anyone can use it without restriction.
To understand how this works, let’s take a look at an example from history. In 1873, author Samuel Clemens (who also wrote under the pen name Mark Twain) published his book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The book was published anonymously, but after its success, Clemens decided to publish another book and chose his name as the author.
Based on this second publication, Clemens successfully sued a company called Charles Webster & Company for plagiarism. Charles Webster & Company had taken the first few chapters of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” copied them into their own book and passed it off as new material. Because Mark Twain had placed his original work into the public domain, Charles Webster & Company could not claim copyright infringement and lost their case with Mark Twain.
How Do Works Enter The Public Domain?
A work enters the public domain by the expiration of its copyright term. This means that no one owns the rights to the work, and it can be used freely by anyone. In most countries, copyrights last for a certain period of time and then expire.
Titles entering the public domain in 2012 include “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In the United States, all works published before 1923 are in the public domain.
Works created after 1922 have a copyright term lasting for 95 years from the year of their first publication. So even if a book was published in 1998, it won’t enter the public domain until 2023 (95 years after 1922) – unless it’s an anonymous work, corporate work (published by a company), or a work made for hire (then it enters the public domain 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation).
Works in the public domain can be used without permission because they are not protected by copyright law. For example, anyone may make copies of books like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and sell them on Amazon or publish them as ebooks on their own website.
This is good news for authors who want to build upon existing works.
Examples Of Public Domain Works
The public domain is a legal concept that refers to works that are not protected by “intellectual property” laws such as copyright law. When a work enters the public domain, it means that it is free for anyone to use however they choose.
It also means that no one owns the work and therefore anyone can claim it as their own.
Some of these works are famous, classic works like “The Wizard of Oz” or Shakespeare’s plays. Other works are more obscure, but they all still fall under the protection of the public domain.
Public Domain Definition
The term “public domain” refers to creative works or other materials that aren’t protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright and trademark laws.
This means that anyone can use or build on these materials without first obtaining permission or paying for the privilege. Public domain materials don’t have owners; thus anyone can claim them as their own, including you.
Public Domain vs. Copyright
Copyright is a type of legal protection which grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution for a limited time period, after which it enters the public domain.
There are several different types of copyrights, including:
What Works Are in the Public Domain?
As mentioned above, anything that doesn’t have intellectual property laws.
Adaptation Of Public Domain Works
Public domain works are subject to the exclusive legal rights of the copyright holder. Only the original author of a creative work is considered to be its owner.
That means that any adaptation of a public domain work must have the consent of its author, and failure to do so can constitute copyright infringement.
Titles, characters, short phrases or slogans, and other such aspects can be used freely as long as they are not substantially similar to another copyrighted work. Thus, in order to use a public domain work you should do the following:
If you want to use only a title, a character, or some other element that is not protected by copyright law, you may do so without seeking permission from the author. However, if you plan to make changes to this type of material, it is necessary to seek permission from the original author.
If you want to make substantial changes to a public domain work that has been previously adapted by others, you must obtain permission from all authors who contributed to the original work.
For example, if you plan to write a sequel based on a short story in the public domain, you should seek permission from both the original author and all previous adaptors of that specific story.
Public Domain In Other Countries
In the United States, works are protected by copyright for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years (see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States). Works published before January 1, 1923, will enter the public domain on January 1 of the year following the 70th anniversary of the death of the author.
This is true regardless of whether a work has a copyright notice. A work that has been published without copyright notice before 1989 may have entered the public domain if it was published before 1964 and if it had no copyright notice.
Works published without a copyright notice between 1964 and 1977 are copyrighted for 95 years from the date of publication (or 120 years from the date of creation if published before 1978).
Works published between 1978 and March 1989 have copyright lasting until December 31, 2002 or 105 years after publication, whichever is greater. For those works first published between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 2002, use this formula to determine whether they are in the public domain:
(95/95) x (year – publication) + publication = 0 or less
If this number is zero or less, then these works are in the public domain. If this number is more than zero, then you must subtract it from 105 to get the number of years until expiration.
Published By Stanford Copyright And Fair Use Center
You can’t copyright facts or ideas, but you can copyright the way you express facts or ideas. This means that someone can’t take your original idea and claim it as his own.
However, a lot of material — like the ideas, facts, and theories in books, articles, and other works of nonfiction — are not covered by copyright. Facts are free for anyone to use; they belong to everyone.
Also, nothing is totally original. Any fact is likely to have been discovered by someone else before you. For example, you might discover that the best way to clean a particular type of silverware is to place it in a plastic bag and run it through the dishwasher with detergent.
Even if no one else has ever done this before, chances are that someone in your town (or even in your family) has cleaned silverware that way at some time in the past. The point is that if you find out something new about how to do something, don’t assume that you can stop anyone else from doing what you did.
The law gives you the right to decide whether anyone else may use any given fact or idea you have found out or created.
In general, there are two kinds of intellectual property:
copyrightable material – writing, music.
Public Domain Status By Year Published
Once a work has been published in the United States, anyone can use it without having to ask permission. So if you find a great quote, story, or photo that you want to use in your blog post, you can probably just type it right into your post.
TIP: In situations where you are unsure as to whether or not a work is protected by copyright, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume it is. In most cases, the copyright owner will not come after you for using a work they own the copyright of, but there are cases where this has happened.
In the United States, works published before 1923 are considered public domain and can be used by anyone without having to ask permission from or pay royalties to the copyright holder. Works published between 1923 and 1963 might be under copyright protection but can also be in the public domain if:
THE WORK HAS BEEN INFRINGED – If someone else uses your work without permission or without crediting you as the creator of it, then it can no longer be considered copyrighted by the law.
The author died more than 70 years ago – This applies even if someone else may own the rights to your work now.
There is a discrepancy about who owns the rights to your work.
Public Domain Books
There are a few different categories of public domain books. First, there are books written before 1923 that have lapsed into the public domain. These are the easiest to find and download. There are some particularly useful sites that focus on nothing but public domain books.
Tucows maintains a massive catalog of ebooks, some of which are in the public domain. You can browse through their selection here. Project Gutenberg has been around since 1971 and includes more than 40,000 free ebooks.
Manybooks.net has a similar selection to Project Gutenberg plus an easy-to-use interface.
Some of these books are available in ePub or Kindle format. If you want an ePub version, Calibre is a great program for converting files from one format to another. It’s completely free and it does a great job with ePubs. You can convert any book to ePub format with it with just a few clicks!
There’s no reason to pay for books when you have so many free ones at your fingertips!
The Public Domain is a vast source of free content. You can download classic e-books, audiobooks, and even movies. Here’s how to get started using a service called Bookworm.
Tired of paying for books and audiobooks? Library e-book collections often have limited selections and you can’t take the books with you on your phone or computer.
The Public Domain is filled with great works of literature that you can enjoy at no cost. Here’s how to find and download the books you want from the Public Domain.
Public Domain Music
Music is a huge part of millions of people. It can be used on paper, in film, and in video. But there is a multitude of music that can be used by anybody. This music is called public domain music.
Public domain music refers to any song or tune that isn’t copyrighted anymore. The reason why these songs are no longer copyrighted is because their copyrights have expired and the song has been released into public domain use.
The term public domain refers to creative works that can be freely used or exploited by everyone without having to pay any royalties or fees to the creator.
Most works enter the public domain because their copyrights have expired, but some works may be dedicated to the public domain from the outset.
Public Domain Music Example:
One example of public domain music would be “Happy Birthday to You”. The song was published in 1986, but hasn’t been copyrighted since then, so it’s now in the public domain and free for anyone to use however they want.
In fact, with a little research, you’ll find that many songs are available for use in your own projects as long as you don’t turn around and sell them yourself.
Public Domain Films
Before 1923, all films were in the public domain. That means anyone could freely copy them. Today, it’s illegal to download and sell any of those old movies, but you can watch them for free online.
Tons of great silent movies are online at the Library of Congress’ Prelinger Archives and the Internet Archive is a good resource for classic (and not-so-classic) black and white films. Many of these films originally appeared on television as well or have been distributed by major studios so they’re readily available on DVD.
How do you find these gems? Use Wikipedia’s list of Public Domain Films as a starting point. If you’re looking for something specific, this list may be able to help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Public_domain_films_(films_whose_copyright_has_expired)
While you’re watching these movies, consider what makes them great. Pay attention to the writing, acting, and editing. How does the director move the story along? What kinds of shots does he or she use?
Watching these old movies will also help give you a better understanding of how Hollywood produces films today (or doesn’t). You’ll see that there’s nothing new under.
Public Domain is an archive of films made between 1896 to 1923 that have been in the public domain for decades. This means that anyone is free to use them in any kind of film or video project they wish, whether it be commercial or non-commercial.
We would like to stress, however, that you must comply with the law. If a film is still protected by copyright, you should not use it.
If you are unsure whether a particular film or clip is in the Public Domain (PD) or not, please contact us via our contact form , providing as much information as possible about the film/clip in question.*
Works Not Covered By Copyright Law
Works not covered by copyright law include the following:
A work that has not been fixed in a tangible form of expression.
A work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government as part of that person’s official duties.
A work prepared or published by the government of any state or political subdivision thereof, except if the contribution to the work is original and a copyrightable authorship is made by an author who was employed or authorized to make it by the person who made the contribution.
A pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work prepared on commission for permanent placement in a public place, including a monument, statue, or building.
A pictorial, graphic or sculptural work related to geography, topography, architecture or science published as text and accompanied by map(s), chart(s), or photograph(s).
An audiovisual work (including a film), other than one in which music is specially composed for and featured in. A translation of a literary work from its original language into English (or into another language) made for purposes of having an abridged version in another language.
A computer program that is not easily susceptible to literary or artistic treatment and as to which none of the following applies.* The program has been published as source code.
Expiration Of Copyright Entering Public Domain
On January 1, 2019, thousands of works will enter the public domain. This means you can use them without having to pay a license fee or ask permission.
Expiration of copyright is a major event in the world of intellectual property. The U.S. government has been recognizing copyrights since the passage of the Copyright Act of 1790, but not all works have had their copyrights automatically renewed or have received the required paperwork to maintain copyright protection.
Once a work becomes part of the public domain, anyone can use it for any purpose.
Works that have not received proper copyright protection and are in danger of falling into the public domain are often referred to as “orphan works”.
They include books, music, and movies whose authors cannot be traced or have no heirs or successors to take on ownership of the works. Works created by employees as part of their job duties belong to their employers rather than themselves, and those employers are usually happy to keep copyright protection in place.
When employees die, however, their work becomes part of the public domain unless companies register those copyrights before they lapse into public domain status.
In addition to old works created before 1978 that have never had their copyrights renewed, many other works that were created after that date are about to enter.