Answered By: Victoria Peters
Last Updated: Dec 19, 2022     Views: 4

Works that are no longer protected by copyright are considered part of the public domain. Items in the public domain can be reused freely for any purpose by anyone, without giving attribution to the author or creator.[1] 

Public domain works in the U.S. include works whose creator died 70 years prior, works published before 1924, or works dedicated to the public domain by their rights holder. The public domain also includes works for which the copyright has expired, works for which copyright owners failed to comply with “formalities,” and things that are just not copyrightable at all.The Creative Commons organization created a legal tool called CC 0 to help creators dedicate their work to the public domain by releasing all rights to it.[2]

A word of caution: Some people mistakenly think that the “public domain” means anything that is publicly available. This is wrong. The public domain has nothing to do with what is readily available for public consumption. This means that just because something is on the internet, it doesn’t put it in the public domain.

Remember that under today’s copyright laws, a work of creative, original expression simply needs to be “fixed in a tangible medium” to be eligible for copyright protection. If Philippa Photographer takes a photograph and puts it online on her blog, it doesn’t mean that she is also granting you permission to reuse it. The default is that Philippa’s photo is protected by copyright and not in the public domain.

  1. Of course, standard citation procedures still apply for creative works in the public domain. You cannot claim another's work as your own. 
  2. Peters, Diane. "Improving Access to the Public Domain: The Public Domain Mark." Creative Commons Blog, October 11, 2010. https://creativecommons.org/2010/10/11/improving-access-to-the-public-domain-the-public-domain-mark/