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Copyright: Public Domain

Learn what copyright is, why it is important, and how to use information legally.

Image

View of open bridge from Cerritos Channel facing northeast. - Henry Ford Bridge, Spanning Cerritos Channel, Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA

Image of the Henry Ford Bridge from the American Memory Project Library of Congress.

Image Source: "Henry Ford Bridge, Spanning Cerritos Channel, Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA." by Historic American Engineering Record, Creator, Joseph Baermann Strauss, and Ross Construction Company in the public domain. 

A Definition

The public domain includes works that are not protected by copyright, and therefore available to the public. Works can pass into the public domain for several reasons:

  • Copyright has expired
  • The author has given up copyrights
  • Published by the US government

Visit the Public Domain Sherpa for detailed information on public domain topics, including questions about images and other media.

Is a Work in the Public Domain?

What is in the public domain can be a complex question because the laws have changed over time, and there are no comprehensive lists of what has passed inot the public domain.

Luckily, there are several tools on the web to help you figure it out.

  • Public Domain Calculator - answer a few questions about a work to determine its status
  • Copyright Slider - (requires Flash) interactive tool for public domain status
  • Detailed chart from Cornell University

Examples

Library of Congress Photostream - historical images from American history and culture

Project Gutenberg - a collection of copyright free downloadable books

Librivox- Free public domain audiobooks

Science.gov - a searchable database of scientific information produced by U.S. government agencies.

[Portrait of Billie Holiday, Downbeat(?), New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946] (LOC)

Image Source: "Portrait of Billie Holiday, Downbeat(?), New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946" by William Gottlieb in the public domain.