A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone.
More information available at:
University of Minnesota Libraries: Copyright Services (opens in a new window)
Stanford University Libraries: Copyright & Fair Use (opens in a new window)
Works fall into the public domain for three main reasons:
1. the term of copyright for the work has expired
2. the author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright
3. the work is a product of the U.S. Government.
As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923.
Another large block of works are in the public domain because they were published before 1964 and copyright was not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.)
A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without copyright notice (copyright notice was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989).
Use the Section 108 Spinner (Adobe Flash Player required; opens in a new window) to determine if a work is still protected by copyright.
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