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What Is Public Domain?
Public domain means that an artistic work is owned by the public. No individual or corporation owns the copyright in the material, so no one needs to be asked to use the material. As a member of the public, you are as free to use the material.
What Qualifies as Public Domain?
The law says there are four ways a property can become public domain:
- Facts and events are already public domain. But if you write about facts in an original way, that work can be protected by copyright.
- Publications and other works created by employees of the United States government and its agencies, as part of their job, are in the public domain.
- Very old works for which the copyright has expired are in the public domain. Usually, one can take the current year and subtract 75 years in order to determine if a work is in the public domain.
- Works created before 1978 may have fallen into the public domain because they did not meet the formalities of proper copyright notice under the old U.S. Copyright Law or because the application for term was not filed in a timely fashion. You no longer must meet these formalities of notice and renewal for works created after March 1989 in order to be eligible for copyright protection in the U.S.
Should I Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney?
If you are attempting to use material, and are uncertain as to its status as public domain, the advice of an intellectual property attorney can be extremely helpful. By finding an attorney who specializes in the complex field of copyright law, their counsel may prove beneficial in the copyright process.
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Last Modified: 01-08-2015 11:50 AM PST
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