What is Public Domain?

The Public Domain refers to works that were created in certain time periods that are no longer protected by copyright, and can therefore be shared and used in your class. If a work is in the public domain, you are free to use that work in any way that you choose – digitize it, re-publish it, post it on the web etc. with appropriate attribution.

  • Works created by the United States government are automatically in the Public Domain. 
  • Works may be released into the Public Domain by authors who have chosen to relinquish their copyright.
  • Works whose copyright has expired are in the Public Domain. Copyright terms vary depending on the type of work and the publication status.* 
    • Works published prior to 1923
    • Works published between 1923 and 1963 without a copyright notice
    • Works published between 1923 and 1963 with a copyright notice but without the copyright being renewed

* For more info, please see Cornell's "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States."

Tools to determine usage rights

The Public Domain Slider is a tool to help determine the copyright status of a work that is first published in the U.S.

For those works that are still protected by copyright, don’t forget to consider fair use to determine if the work can be used in other more limited ways. The Fair Use Evaluator is a handy tool to help you determine Fair Use.

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