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Copyright @ Whitman: Public Domain

Definition

"A work of authorship is in the "public domain" if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection.  Works in the public domain may be freely used without the permission of the copyright owner." U.S. Copyright Office

Tools

Use Cornell University's "Copyright Term and the Public Domain" chart or the "Is It Protected by Copyright?" slider to determine if a work retains copyright protection.

Stanford Copyright Renewal Database provides the copyright status of many works published between 1923-1963.

Need More Information?

U.S. Copyright Office circulars detail how to research copyright status and provide basic copyright information.  Check "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work"

Common Misconceptions

  • An item is not in the public domain just because it is on the Internet.  Making a claim that an item on the Internet is in the public domain does not necessarily mean that it lacks copyright protection.
  • If the copyright symbol, ©, date, and copyright owner's name do not appear on the item, it does not mean that the work lacks copyright protection.
  • Just because a © appears on an item does not necessarily mean it is under copyright protection.
  • If an item is "out-of-print" it may still have copyright protection.  Copyright does not expire because a publisher has ceased to exist.

When are Works in the Public Domain?

Works in the public domain are those that may be used by anyone for any legal purpose without permission.  Citing the source is still required in order to avoid plagiarism.  These include:

  • Works created by the United State Government
  • Works for which copyright protection has expired
  • Works that are factual and contain no creative content (e.g., phone directories, forms, useful objects)
  • Works for which the creator claims no copyright, placing them in the public domain

Public Domain Resources

These general resources offer works within the public domain.  Also check the Images, Music, and Film/Multimedia pages.


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