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Public Domain

Not all information is copyrighted; items that are not copyrighted are in the public domain. In most cases, the information or material you find will be protected by copyright unless it is in the public domain.

Public domain refers to materials which belong to the community at large, are unprotected by copyright or patent, and may be used by anyone. Public domain materials can be freely duplicated or used by anyone, as long as credit is given to the original creator.

Once someone's work enters the public domain, permission is no longer needed to freely distribute, copy, use, display, or perform that work.

Generally speaking, an item is in the public domain (not copyrighted) if:

1. Ownership of copyright has expired and was not renewed.

Items published prior to 1978 have a copyright of 28-75 years. Items published after 1978 have a copyright length of the life of the author plus 70 years. At the expiration of the copyright, the author or owner of the copyright may elect to renew. If the copyright is not renewed, the material becomes part of the public domain.

Example: William Shakespeare's plays are not copyrighted; they are in the public domain.

William Shakespeare 
William Shakespeare
2. The item is a federal government publication.

Legislation (laws), informational brochures, and other publications from U.S. Government agencies are not copyrighted.

Examples: The Constitution of the United States of America, The 9/11 Commission Report, a pamphlet on breast cancer and breast health.

the Constitution
3. The author grants permission or waives copyright.

The author may choose to allow creative work to be freely distributed, copied and (in some cases) modified.

Example: Freeware software may be used for free such as freeware screen savers or simple graphics viewing programs.

NOTE: Credit and acknowledgment to the original author must always be given even if an item is in the public domain.

If you are in doubt as to whether a work is in the public domain, you should seek permission from the original copyright owner.

Chapter 9 — Page 4