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Scholarly Communication Services - Public Domain

About Public Domain

Public Domain


Public Domain is a status given to publications, creative works, or other types of works that are no longer protected by copyright.  No one legally owns these works, so they can be reused or repurposed by anyone!

Why do works enter the public domain? 

  • Copyright expiration:  the protections are no longer and place which depends on the type of work and when it was published. 
  • A copyright was not renewed by the copyright holder.
  • Dedication:  when a creator surrenders their copyright and gives it to the public for their use.  No Rights Reserved (also known as CC0) is a license that an author may use to show they did this, or it may appear on works known to be in the public domain.

How can public domain works be used? 

  • Publications and Presentations: public domain images can be included to provide examples or illustrations of concepts.
  • Teaching:  public domain works can be used as readings, assignments, translations, or labs.
  • Scholarly Activities:  reuse, repurpose, or integrate into current research.
  • Creative Tasks:  update, revise, or make a work inspired by something in the public domain.

Public Domain Mark            CC0 Public Domain Logo

If I reuse a public domain work, do I need to cite it?  Although these works are free of copyright restrictions, attributing a public domain work is good practice from the standpoints of academic integrity and the respect of intellectual property.  Using a public domain work does not violate copyright, but failing to attribute it or wrongfully claiming authorship is considered plagiarism (Crews, 2020, pg. 58).  Therefore, citing a public domain work is just the ethically right thing to do!     

Disclaimer:  The FAU Libraries and its faculty, staff, and administration are not attorneys and cannot interpret the law.  This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not substitute for advice from legal counsel. 

Source:  Crews, K. D. (2020).  Copyright law for librarians and educators: Creative strategies and practical solutions (4th Ed.).  Chicago: ALA Editions.

Related Research Guides

Public Domain Essentials

U.S. Copyright Office & Federal Law

Copyright Clearance Center (2019).  What is public domain? [YouTube Video]. 

Public Domain in Plain Language

Determine If a Work is in The Public Domain

Find Public Domain Works

Various web pages and meta-lists include links to public domain works that often may include works with copyright protection.

Recommended:  check on any copyright information that may be available on any work of interest to be sure it is actually in the public domain, and document it.

Web Sites & Meta-Lists

Books & Texts

Images & Museums

Music (Sound, Sheet Music)


Public Domain Presentations & Handouts

Books about Public Domain

Last updated on Oct 7, 2021 4:40 PM