The Public Domain

ABSOLUTELY FREE! MUSIC, TEXT, AND ART!! COPY ALL YOU WANT!! If you saw an advertisement like this, you might wonder, “What’s the catch?” When it comes to the public domain, there is no catch. If a book, song, movie, or artwork is in the public domain, then it is not protected by intellectual property laws (copyright, trademark, or patent laws)—which means it’s free for you to use without permission.

As a general rule, most works enter the public domain because of old age. As of 2019, this includes any work published in the United States before 1924 or works published before 1964 for which copyrights were not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without a copyright notice, which was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989. Some works are in the public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection. The rules establishing the public domain status for each of these types of works are different.