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Copyright for Educators: Public Domain

What is Public Domain?

A public domain work is not protected by copyright and can be freely used by anyone.

Works fall under public domain if:

  • its copyright has expired
  • the author failed to satisfy the statutory formalities to perfect the copyright
  • the copyright owner places the work in the public domain
  • copyright law does not protect the type of work

Public Domain Resources

Is it Protected by Copyright?
Created by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, this digital slider tool helps to determine if a work is covered by copyright law or falls under the public domain.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
This website from Cornell University Library helps to determine copyright status for various publication scenarios.

General Rules

  • Works published more than 95 years ago are in the public domain.
  • For works first published before 1964, copyright lasts 28 years after publication UNLESS the owner filed for renewal, in which case the copyright was extended to 95 years after first publication.
  • For works first published before 1978, copyright lasts until 95 years after the first publication.
  • For works first published 1978 or later, copyright lasts until 70 years after the author's death.

You can always check the copyright status of works through the Copyright Office's database.

Public Domain Mark

These marks indicate that a work is within the public domain because copyright has expired or the author has intentionally placed the work in the public domain.