Your Copyright Questions Answered: What is Public Domain?

Q: What is public domain?

A: If a book, song, movie, or artwork is in public domain, then it is not protected by intellectual property laws (copyright, trademark, or patent laws)—which means it’s free for you to use without permission.

As a general rule, most works enter public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923 or works published before 1964 for which copyrights were not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.)

A smaller group of works fell into public domain because they were published without a copyright notice, which was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989.

Some works are in public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection.

Some works are in public domain because they are published by the federal or state governments.

Q: How do I find out if a work is in public domain?

A: Use the copyright digital slider to find out if a work is in pubic domain or still covered by copyright. 

To learn more about Copyright, visit libguides.eku.edu/copyright.