Public domain or copyrighted? Here’s how to tell.
This site provides information on finding and using public domain material in the United States.
The US public domain is filled with creative works you can use any way you want to. No need to ask anyone’s permission. No fees necessary.
You can find photos, books, music, software — and more — that you’re free to recast, remix, and build upon.
But how do you find these works? And how can you be sure they really are copyright-free?
Copyright law is complex (as complex as the tax code, some say) and there’s a lot of misinformation and hype out there about what is and what isn’t “public domain.”
It can get confusing.
Are you unsure about what’s free to use and what isn’t? Have questions like ...
- Are all works on the Internet in the public domain?
- If a work doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, is it in the public domain?
- If a work has a copyright notice on it, does that mean you can’t use it?
- If a work is royalty free, does that mean it’s not copyrighted?
- If a work of art is well-known, like American Gothic or the Mona Lisa, is it in the public domain?
If you’ve got questions like these you’re not alone. That’s why this site is here.
Don’t just rely on stuff you’ve heard — get the facts. Browsing through these pages will help you ...
- Save time. I've gathered the information for you. There are up-to-date links to places where you can find public domain works online. These are sites I’ve visited myself ... I tell you what you’ll find there, and what (if any) conditions on use there are. And when I find a great new resource I’ll add it.
For example, are you looking for photos? Books? Sheet music? Just choose your subject from the navigation menu on the right.
- Save money. You can save money in legal fees, and other fees, too. Why pay a license fee if you can find a public domain version of a work you want to use?
Listen, you can answer a lot of public domain questions yourself. There’s an online copyright tutorial, a copyright duration diagram, and a copyright term calculator to help you figure out whether a specific work is in the public domain — and if it’s not, when it will be.
- Stay out of trouble. Know whether the work you want to use is in the public domain before you use it. Here you’ll also learn about things that could trip you up even when the work is in the public domain ... like trademark rights and publicity rights.
And if someone accuses you of infringing their copyright? There are tips for dealing with a cease and desist letter.
You can find answers to your public domain questions without hiring an attorney and paying hefty fees. And if you do need to consult an attorney, you’ll have information that will help you keep your legal costs down. You know what they say — knowledge is power.
Keep reading. You’ll get the facts here, without the hype.