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Copyright Basics

This guide offers basic copyright information for users of copyrighted materials.

Public Domain

Just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain.

Public Domain indicates works that are either no longer protected by copyright or never were protected. Copyright permission is not needed for their use, although attribution is required. Examples:

  • Generic information -- ideas and facts -- is not copyrightable.
  • Works whose copyrights have expired or were not renewed (applies to works created before 1978).
    • All works first published in the United States prior to 1929. (95 years after publication date -- changes every year.)
  • Works created prior to March 1989 that failed to include a proper notice of copyright.
  • Works "prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties."

Any work published after March 1, 1989 is protected by copyright, even if no notice of copyright is present.

See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States (Cornell University Library) for a detailed chart with many more conditions.

OR, use the Public Domain Slider tool help determine the public domain status of a work that is first published in the U.S.

Watch this 3-minute video from the U.S. Copyright Office (Learning Engine Series) created in 2019.

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