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Scholarly Communication Services - Public Domain: Essentials

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 (see left image).  No one legally owns these works, so they can be reused or repurposed by anyone!

Why do works enter the public domain?  Copyright works can enter the public domain for a variety of reasons.  Copyright protection eventually expires, and when this happens depends on the type of work and when it was published.  Sometimes a copyright holder did not renew their copyright, so the work entered the public domain.  Another reason is known as dedication, or when a creator surrenders their copyright and gives it to the public for their use.  No Rights Reserved (also known as CC0, see left, lower image) 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 MarkIf 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!     

CC0 Public Domain LogoThis LibGuide provides links to comprehensive information on public domain, when items enter it, and where public domain works can be found.  See LibGuides for on related topics such as copyright, Creative Commons, and fair use.

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 LibGuides

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