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Copyright: Public Domain

Guide for using copyrighted materials for students and faculty.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

Their free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Open Access Resources

Directory of Open Access Journals

The aim of the DOAJ is to increase the visibility and ease of use of open access scientific and scholarly journals, thereby promoting their increased usage and impact. The DOAJ aims to be comprehensive and cover all open access scientific and scholarly journals that use a quality control system to guarantee the content. In short, the DOAJ aims to be THE one stop shop for users of open access journals.

OpenDOAR is an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. Each OpenDOAR repository has been visited by project staff to check the information that is recorded here. This in-depth approach does not rely on automated analysis and gives a quality-controlled list of repositories.

About the Public Domain

A work in the public domain is not protected by copyright. You are free to copy the entire work. In the United States, works published before 1923 are in the public domain.

The majority of documents published by the federal government are in the public domain. There are some exceptions. The federal government outsources some of its research and publications to private publishers. Those works may be copyrighted. Check the specific document.

Also many state and county publications may be copyrighted; they are not necessarily in the public domain.

The public domain consists of works that are either ineligible for copyright protection or when a work's copyright protection has expired.

The public domain also includes:

  • Ideas and facts
  • Works with expired copyrights
  • Works dedicated to the public domain
  • Works governed by early copyright statutes that failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection, such as, notice, registration, and renewal requirements
  • U.S. government works (Please remember that projects written by non-government authors with federal funding or projects contracted by the federal government may be copyright protected.)
  • Scientific principles, theorems, mathematical formulae, laws of nature
  • Scientific and other research methodologies, statistical techniques and educational processes
  • Laws, regulations, judicial opinions, government documents and legislative reports
  • Words, names, numbers, symbols, signs, rules of grammar and diction, and punctuation (Trademark restrictions may apply.)

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923. Another large block of works are in the public domain because they were published before 1964 and copyright was not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without copyright notice (copyright notice was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989).

It is difficult to determine if a work published after 1923 is in the public domain. The copyright for some works published prior to the 1976 law may not have been renewed. Lolly Gasaway's chart shows the changes in copyright terms from 1923 forward. The Copyright Office maintains a database of copyright registrations back to 1978. The Copyright Office also publishes the circular "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work." For works published prior to 1978, the Copyright Office can do a manual search of its records for a fee.

A work can also be an "orphan work," meaning that it may still be under copyright, yet no rights holder can be found.

Public Domain Media Resources

Online sharing service where users share free public domain vector cliparts, or share public domain photos and derive vector clipart from those photos using clker's online tracer.

Flickr CC
Creative commons photos.

Freesound aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, ... released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse.

A personal project of professional photographer David Niblack. ImageBase contains more than one hundred pages of images that Mr. Niblack has released for free reuse and redistribution.

Free photos with license to remix.

Collections of public domain clipart.

Thousands of images that are in the public domain.

Public Domain Clipart
Clipart that is in the public domain. offers thousands of free sound effects, sound clips, and straight up sounds. is a great source for copyright free sounds.

The World Images Kiosk hosted by San Jose State University
Offers more than 75,000 images that teachers and students can use in their academic projects. All of the images can be used under a Creative Commons license that requires you to give proper attribution when necessary.

Wikimedia Commons
A media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed media content (images, sound, and video clips).

William Vann's EduPic Graphical Resource
Provides free photographs and drawings for teachers and students to use in their classrooms.

Collection of artwork for schoolkids and others that is free of copyright concerns.

An image search engine designed to help you quickly find, cite, and use Creative Commons licensed images.

Public Domain Resources

Copyright Terms and the Public Domain in the United States
Hirtle, Peter B. Cornell University. January 2013.

Guide to Finding Interesting Public Domain Works Online
A Project of the Open Knowledge Foundation

Library Digitization Projects and Copyright - Part I - Introduction and Overview
By Mary Minow, Published on June 27, 2002

Project Gutenberg's Renewal Record Transcriptions 1950-1977

Public Domain Resources
A resource list from the University of California.

Public Domain Resources
A list of public-domain materials available via the Internet provided by Columbia University Libraries.

Stanfords Copyright Renewal Database
This database covers copyright "renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963. Note that the database includes ONLY US Class A (book) renewals."

The Public Domain Review
A Project of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

University of Pennsylvania Copyright Renewal List
Covering renewals between 1950 - 1978 for books published between 1923-1950.