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Evaluating and Using
Print and Media Resources

Public Domain
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Now that you've located and can identify what information qualifies as a rich resource for your research, the next step is to determine whether your resource is in public domain or is still copyrighted or protected material. Depending on whether it is public domain or not will determine whether or not you need to permission to modify, cite or use this published material.

So what does it mean when work is in "public domain?"

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (12 Nov 2003) states that public domain is:
Main Entry: public domain
Function: noun
Date: 1832
1 : land owned directly by the government
2 : the realm embracing property rights that belong to the community at large, are unprotected by copyright or patent, and are subject to appropriation by anyone

In other words, anyone has free reign to take material that is in public domain and modify or use it in whatever way they want.

Activity Description
  1. Download a print-friendly version of the article written below (you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file): When Work Passes into Public Domain
  2. Brainstorm what are examples of work that is in public domain.

Now go to Copyright and Fair Use.....

When Work Passes into Public Domain

This is published with permission from Laura N. Gasaway and was developed with the help of Professor Tom Field from the Franklin Pierce Law Center. The information on this page is current as of November 4, 2003. Updates to the law will be reflected on their web site, so check the following page to see if any changes have been made:




Created 1-1-78 or after When work is fixed in tangible medium of expression Life + 70 years1(or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation2
Published before 1923 In public domain  None
Published from 1923 - 63 When published with notice3 28 years + could be renewed for 47 years, now extended by 20 years for a total renewal of 67 years. If not so renewed, now in public domain
Published from 1964 - 77 When published with notice 28 years for first term; now automatic extension of 67 years for second term
Created before 1-1-78 but not published 1-1-78, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2002, whichever is greater
Created before 
1-1-78 but published between then and 12-31-2002
1-1-78, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2047 whichever is greater

  1.  Term of joint works is measured by life of the longest-lived author.
  2.  Works for hire, anonymous and pseudonymous works also have this term.  17 U.S.C. 302(c).
  3.  Under the 1909 Act, works published without notice went into the public domain upon publication. Works published without notice between 1-1-78 and 3-1-89, effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act, retained copyright only if, e.g., registration was made within five years. 17 U.S.C. 405.

Notes courtesy of Professor Tom Field, Franklin Pierce Law Center

created by: LOLLY GASAWAY  Last updated 11-4-2003


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