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Copyright and Fair Use for Reserves: Public Domain

This guide is an overview of copyright and fair use guidelines for use in electronic and paper reserves.

What is Public Domain?

Public domain works are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Public domain works may be used freely by everyone.

 

 

Works in Public Domain

There are three main categories of public domain works:

  • Works that automatically enter the public domain upon creation, because they are not copyrightable:
    • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans, familiar symbols, numbers
    • Ideas and facts (e.g., the date of the Gettysburg Address)
    • Processes and systems
    • Government works and documents*
  • Works that have been assigned to the public domain by their creators
  • Works that have entered the public domain because the copyright on them has expired

(* Use of some works, such as ideas and symbols, may be restricted by other laws, such as patent, trademark, or trade secret.)

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923. Another large block of works are in the public domain because they were published before 1964 and copyright was not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) 

In general, works published after 1977 will not fall into the public domain until 70 years after the death of author, or, for corporate works, anonymous works, or works for hire, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

Use the Copyright Slider Tool to determine if a work is still procotected by Copyright.

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Rosemary Burgos-Mira
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