Public Domain

Works in the public domain include:

  1. Uncopyrighted published works—Any work published in the United States before January 1, 1978 without a copyright notice.
  1. Published work with expired copyrights—All works published prior to 1923. Copyrights from 1923 and later may also have expired, but making determinations about their status is sometimes difficult. For more information see When Works Pass into the Public Domain (below; also available online at http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm) and the Copyright Right Office publication How to Investigate Copyright Status of a Work..
  1. United States government publications—Examples of government publications include: opinions of courts in legal cases, Congressional Reports on proposed bills, testimony offered at Congressional hearings, and reports of government employees. Some government publications may be works prepared by outside authors on contract to the government and might be protected by copyright. As with other publications, check for copyright notification. In the absence of copyright notice in such works, it would be reasonable to assume they are in the public domain.

Works in the Public Domain may be reproduced without restriction.

Public Domain Checklist print version

Public Domain Checklist

Publication Date Published w/Copyright Notice Copyright Renewed Effect
Before 1923 N/A N/A In public domain
1923-1977 No N/A In public domain
1923-1963 Yes No In public domain
1923-1963 Yes Yes Not in public domain, copyright expires 95 years from publication date
1964-1977 Yes N/A Not in public domain, copyright expires 95 years from publication date
Created before 1-1-1978, but not published N/A N/A Enters public domain 70 years after death of creator, or 12-31-2002, whichever is greater
Created before1-1-78 but published between then and 12-31-2002 N/A N/A Enters public domain 12-31-2047 at the earliest

‡Determining the renewal status of works published between 1923 and 1963 is a challenge. See Univ. of Pennsylvania’s Information about the Catalog of Copyright Entries for more information about this subject.

Works Not Eligible for Copyright Protection

The Copyright Office publication Copyright Basics lists several categories of works that are not eligible for protection. These include:

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded.
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustrations.
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources).