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Copyright: Public Domain & Free to Use Resources

This guide provides a brief introduction to copyright.

The Public Domain

What is the Public Domain?

  • The public domain contains works that do not have copyright protection.
  • It is not a place but a term used to describe the level of copyright. The term, public domain, "is a concept that refers to everything not protected by copyright".
  • Public domain works are generally free to use in any manner because copyright has expired or the work never had copyright protection. 

What is in the Public Domain?

  • Works of the U.S. government are not copyrightable but works created by state and local governments may be protected.  It depends on the laws in those areas. View this State Copyright map for state information.
  • Works placed in the public domain by the creators. 
  • Procedures, facts and ideas, methods of operation, and concepts are included in the public domain. These are not protected by copyright.
  • Works whose copyright has expired.
    • Works published before Jan. 1, 1928, are in the public domain. January 1st of each new year we gain more items in the public domain since the works were published more than 95 years ago and copyright has expired.   
  • Works that have chosen a CC0 Creative Commons license. 

What is the Public Domain?