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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

Public Domain Resources