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Copyright: Public Domain

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The Basics of Public Domain

When a work is noted as being in the Public Domain, it is not covered by copyright, or any other intellectual property rights. Works generally enter the Public Domain  three different ways:

  1. Works created by the United States government are automatically in the Public Domain. As taxpayers, we have already paid for the creation of works by the US government, and therefore own the rights to any work created by its employees. PLEASE NOTE: works by state and local governments are likely protected by copyright.
  2. Works whose copyright has expired. Copyright terms vary depending on the type of work and the publication status. Generally, any item published before January 1, 1923  is in the Public Domain. For more specific terms, please see Peter Hirtle's "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States."
  3. Works released into the Public Domain by the author. Some authors choose to relenquish their intellectual property rights and publish their works in the Public Domain.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Peter Hirtle's invaluable guide to copyright terms and the Public Domain.

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind

James Boyle, a professor of law at Duke University discusses his book "The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind."

Additional Information on Public Domain Works

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