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What is the public domain?

Works in the public domain are no longer protected by U.S. copyright laws. Works in the public domain have typically aged into the public domain and include the following:

  • A work can age into the public domain. Works published before January 1, 1926 are in the public domain.
  • Works for hire can age into the public domain. Works made for hire age into the public domain 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation (whichever expires first).
  • Works published between January 1, 1926 and December 31, 1977 must have copyright notice to maintain the author's right.
  • For works published before 1978, the absence of a copyright notice from a published copy generally indicates the work is not protected by copyright. 
  • Some government publications are in the public domain such as statutes and press releases. 
  • A creator can designate his or her work in the public domain. A CC0 license from Creative Commons allows copyright holders to waive their interest in their work and allow others to use and repurpose their work without permission. 

Where to Find Content in the Public Domain