Public Domain Checklist

Works in the public domain include:

  • Uncopyrighted published works—Any work published in the United States before January 1, 1978 without a copyright notice.
  • Published work with expired copyrights—All works published prior to 1924. Copyrights from 1924 and later may also have expired, but making determinations about their status is sometimes difficult. For more information see the chart below, or consult Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States. For more detailed information, see the Copyright Office publication How to Investigate Copyright Status of a Work.
  • 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.

Publication Date Published w/Copyright Notice Copyrights Renewed‡ Effect
Before 1924 N/A N/A In public domain
1924-1977 No N/A In public domain
1924-1963 Yes No‡ In public domain
1924-1963 Yes Yes‡ Not in public domain, expires 95 years from publication date
1964-1977 Yes N/A Not in public domain, 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 before 1-1-78 but published between then and 12-31-2002 N/A N/A Enters public domain 12-31-2047

‡Determining the renewal status of works published between 1924 and 1963 is a challenge. See University of Pennsylvania’s Information about the Catalog of Copyright Entries for more information about this subject.

Works Not Eligible for Copyright Protection

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).