Public Domain

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A public domain image of the White House
A work is in the public domain if nobody holds any intellectual property rights on it. Works that are in the public domain can be freely copied.

Under longstanding precedent in the United States, once a work is in the public domain, it may not be taken out of the public domain.[1]

Two examples of material in the public domain are United States government works (technically the copyright is held collectively by the American public), and writings for which their copyright has expired. In the United States, anything published before 1923 no longer has copyright protection and is in the public domain.[2] Laws vary by country, but in most of the world, works whose authors died at least 50, 70, or 100 years ago are in the public domain.

Fair use is not needed when copying material that is in the public domain because there is no copyright holder. However, but physical access to the works may be controlled by a museum that makes users promise not to make any reproductions. Texts and images published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain. Work created by the federal government is in the public domain (but not work created by state of local governments). Before 1976 copyright expired after 28 years and had to be renewed; items that were not renewed are in the public domain.[3] Items that were published in the USA but never copyright in the first place are in the public domain in the USA. Items posted on web servers in the U.S. are covered only by American law.

See also

External links


  1. See Golan v. Gonzales, 501 F.3d 1179 (10th Cir. 2007).
  2. Public Domain
  3. For a list of renewals see the Project Gutenberg collections at [1], which cover ererything except music.