Public Domain - Intellectual Property Law

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Most Common Intellectual Property Law Issues:

What Is Public Domain?

Public domain means that an artistic work owned by the public. No individual or corporation owns the copyright in the material, so permission is not needed to use the material. As a member of the public, you are as free to use the material and can be used, distributed, or produced in any way by any person.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a work or invention that is the result of creativity. Included within the realm of intellectual property rights are patents, ideas, symbols, literary and artistic works, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secret rights.

The following are examples of intellectual property:

What Qualifies as Public Domain?

The law says there are four ways a property can become 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.

Determining Whether a Work Is in the Public Domain

Works may become public domain in the following situations:

When Does a Copyright Expire?

To determine whether a copyright has expired, it is important to determine when the copyright was published. The following rules may be used to determine if a copyright has expired:

Can Someone Be Sued for Using Works in the Public Domain?

As a general rule, once something becomes public domain a person cannot be sued for using them as they belong to the public and no one can claim exclusive use. However, it is not uncommon for people to create original works based on works that exist in the public domain. For example, the re-working of a public domain song can be copyrights as long as it constitutes a new work of art.

Should I Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney?

If you are attempting to use material, and are uncertain if it is 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: 04-17-2015 03:21 PM PDT

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