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What is Public Domain?

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

Public Domain Info

When is a work in the Public Domain?

Works fall into the public domain for three main reasons:

  1. The term of copyright for the work has expired
  2. The author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright
  3. The work is a work of the U.S. Government

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923.

Another large block of works are in the public domain because they were published before 1964 and copyright was not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.)

A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without copyright notice (copyright notice was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989).

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

This chart shows when a work will pass into copyright.

Copyright Slider Tool

Use the Copyright Slider Tool to determine is a work is still protected by copyright.

Public Domain Resources

Many public domain resources can be found on the web. For more infromation on images, visit Finding and Using Images at NYU Libraries.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in these research guides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Creative Commons Attribution License