Public domain

Network Literacy June 21, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF


What is public domain?
The public domain is the collection of all works to which no one owns the copyright. Works end up in the public domain when the term of their copyright expires and is not renewed, or if that work never qualified for copyright protection. (For example: A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in 1843, is in the public domain)
All works created by the U.S. federal government (and federal employees in the course of their work) are in the public domain from the moment of their creation. There is no copyright in U.S. federal government works. However, it is good etiquette to cite the source (if possible).
How can you use content in the Public Domain?
Works in the public domain may be used freely by anyone, for any purpose, without copyright permission from anyone, because no one owns exclusive rights to these works. (For example: many classic works that are in the public domain are still sold in their print version with the proceeds going to the publisher alone)
How can you determine if content is in the public domain?
Under current law, an individual creator establishes rights that hold for 70 years after his or her death. Rights held by a corporation remain for 95 years after first publication.
There are many other conditions in which a work may have entered the public domain. This chart from Cornell University shows the types of works affected by those conditions and how those conditions affect the copyright of those works.
How can you put your work in the public domain?
Since your work is protected under copyright as soon as you create it, the best way to put your work in the public domain is to indicate that you want the work to be in the public domain by making such a statement within the work.  Language such as “The author grants a nonexclusive license to use this work in any way,” has been suggested as a way to place work in the public domain. Creative Commons also provides a “No Rights Reserved” license (CC0) which can be placed on an original work to show the creator’s intent to place a work in the public domain.
For more information:
Project Gutenberg: Electronic versions of public domain books.
Public Domain: Wikipedia page.
Fact Sheet from Washington State University


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.