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Copyright Guide

Publicly Available & the Public Domain

Warning! Publicly available is not the same as Public Domain!  

Many items on the internet are still protected by copyright, so don’t assume online works are free to use just because they are free to access.

Copyright duration

Public domain

What is Public Domain?

"Public domain" is a class of intellectual material that is NOT protected by copyright or any other intellectual property law. These resources are free to use and may be copied, shared, modified, reused or adapted without permission or payment of royalties. 

  • Some material is public domain because it is just not eligible for protection
  • It has been dedicated to the public domain.
  • Because the copyright has expired. 

The following chart provides examples of the types of material you can expect to find in the public domain.

No original or creative input by the author
Verbatim copies: reprints of older publications. Collection of facts: telephone white pages listings.  
Not fixed in a tangible form 
Includes: improvised speeches or performances which are never recorded.
Expired copyright
Copyright is granted for a limited amount of time. Once copyright expires it cannot be reinstated! *
US Federal documents
Works created by federal employees as a part of their official job duties:  Presidential speeches, judges’ opinions, and official documents or images.
Facts and data
Dates of events, scientific formulae, statistical data, discoveries.
Ideas and concepts
A description of an idea can be protected but the idea itself is not.
Information that is “Common Property” 
Rulers, height & weight charts, or tables found in public documents.
Words, names and short phrases
Brand names, slogans and taglines.
Processes & procedures
A description of the procedure can be protected but the procedure itself is not. 

Translations & Adaptations

Also, a work which appears to be in the public domain because it is older or predates the existence of copyright, may actually be protected.   This occurs when a work has been altered from the original to the extent that it is considered a new or different work, qualifying it for protection. Translations and adaptations are good examples of these types of works:

  • Translations
    • While the original text of Homer’s Iliad is not something that would be protected by copyright, a new translation of the work is. 
  • Adaptations
    • New works which are adapted from the original also qualify for copyright protection. Adaptations include: rearranging a symphony for orchestra so that it can be performed by a concert band, writing a screenplay based on a book, or making a musical based on a popular movie.