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Copyright Topic Guide: Public Domain

Information about Copyright, Fair Use, Teach Act, InterLibrary Loan, and the Public Domain.

Is it Copyright Protected or Public Domain?

Public Domain Chart Timeline of when a work/s pass into the Public Domain.

( Laura Gasaway, Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at the UNC.)

This Digital Slider tool provides an easy way to determine which works are in the public domain and which works are still protected by copyright. 

(Created by Michael Brewer for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy)

The Public Domain

Generally, most works enter the public domain because of old age and unprotected by copyright law.  This includes any work published in the United States before 1923, or work published before 1964 that did not have the copyrighted renewed.

A smaller group of works fall 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).  Additionally, some works are in the public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection.

The Public Domain includes works where the copyright period has expired or works that were created by the U.S. Government or by its employees.  For instance, materials posted on any U.S. Government web page (example: the U.S. Copyright Office) are in the public domain and may be copied freely.

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