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Copyright: Public Domain

A guide for students and instructors. This guide is not intended to be legal advice. It was not created by lawyers. It is designed to provide general information about copyright and intellectual property.

Public Domain

Public Domain LogoWorks not under copyright protection enters the Public Domain and can be used and adapted freely without permission, because no one can own materials in the public domain. Common reasons why works enter the public domain include:

  • Copyright has expired
  • Owner deliberately places the work in the public domain
  • Owner failed to register or renew the copyright of a work

Current law protects all original works under copyright, whether registered or not, for the life of the author plus 70 years. But, there are exceptions. The following is a general guide to determine if a work is in the public domain:

  • Works published in the U.S. before 1924
  • Works published in the U.S. from 1923 to end of 1963 with a copyright notice and not renewed
  • Works published in the U.S. from 1923 to end of 1977 without a copyright notice
  • Works published in the U.S. from 1978 to March 1, 1989 without a copyright notice and without subsequent registration within 5 years

For a detailed resource on Public Domain, see Stanford University Library's page at

Copyright Duration and Public Domain Slider

Copyright Duration Chart for Term and Public Domain provides a schedule for when a work enters the Public Domain.

Use the Public Domain Slider below to determine if a work is in the Public Domain.


Places to Find Materials in the Public Domain