College Resources

Public Domain

A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone.

The reasons that public domain works are not protected include:

  • The work does not meet the requirements for copyright.

  • The copyright for the work has expired.

  • The author/creator failed to satisfy statutory formality to perfect the copyright.

  • The work was created by the U.S. Government. (see note)

Once a work enters the public domain, it cannot be reclaimed by the original copyright owner.

When Copyright Expires

Check the table below to determine if a work's copyright has expired:

Date of Work

When Copyright Begins

Term of Copyright

Created on or after
January 1, 1978
 

When the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression

Under the Berne Convention Implementation Act, works published without copyright notice between January 1, 1978 and March 1, 1989 retained copyright only if efforts to correct the omissions were made within 5 years (ex. placing notice on unsold copies).

Life of author/creator + 70 years

If work has multiple authors/creators, the term is measured by the life of the longest-lived author + 70 years.

If work is of corporate authorship, a work for hire, or its author remains anonymous or uses a pseudonym, the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.
 

Created before January 1, 1978 but published between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 2002
 

January 1, 1978 – The 1976 Act eliminating common law copyright became effective.

Life of author/creator + 70 years or December 31, 2047 – whichever is greater
 

Created before January 1, 1978 but not published

January 1, 1978 – The 1976 Act eliminating common law copyright became effective.
 

Life of author/creator + 70 years or December 31, 2002 – whichever is greater
 

Published from 1964-1977
 

When the work was published with copyright notice

Under the 1909 Act, works published without copyright notice went into the public domain upon publication.
 

28 years from when copyright began; now there is an automatic extension of 67 years for second term

Published from 1923-1963
 

When the work was published with copyright notice

Under the 1909 Act, works published without copyright notice went into the public domain upon publication.
 

28 years from when copyright began; could be renewed for 47 years, now extended by 20 years for a total renewal of 67 years.

If copyright is not renewed, work is included in the public domain.

Published before 1923
 

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Work is in the public domain


*Note on Government Documents

Publications of the United States Government are documents prepared by an officer or employee of the government as part of that person's official duties (17 U.S.C. 101) and as such are in the public domain and are not copyrighted. These may be photocopied without restrictions. However, there is a small number of U.S. government publications which have been copyrighted, and a notice will appear in them. These publications are subject to the college's general copyright policy. Examples of restricted government documents include classified information and trademarks (ex. Smokey the Bear).

Finding Works in the Public Domain

Use these resources to find works that are not protected under U.S. copyright laws.

  • Internet Archive
    Digital library of Web collections, movies and moving images, texts and audio.

  • National Archives and Records Administration
    The NARA provides an online catalog of over 124,000 federal documents housed in the Washington, DC area, in regional archives and at Presidential Libraries. These documents are intended for the use of the American public.  

  • Federal Resources for Education Excellence (FREE)

  • American Memory Project
    Digital collection from the Library of Congress. Read the LOC's copyright disclaimer before using these works.

  • Public Domain Information Project
    A resource for public domain music and sound.

  • Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg provides a searchable site featuring electronic texts of light literature, heavy literature and reference materials in the public domain.

  • The Open Video Project
    Search this digital library for digital clips. Many clips come from government agencies. The record for each clip is accompanied by copyright instructions; and many of the clips are in the public domain or are available for non-commercial use. 

  • Free Foto
    This site offers free 121,000+ images for non-commercial use. Images may be purchased for commercial use. 

  • Creative Commons
    A non-profit organization working with creators to make certain works available with fewer copyright restrictions.