The Public Domain

What is the public domain?

Works that are in the public domain are not subject to copyright laws and are accessible to anyone and everyone! They can be copied, quoted, adapted, or distributed with no permission needed. In 2022 in the United States (which uses a 95-year copyright term), copyrights on works such as books, movies, musical compositions, and sound recordings from 1926 have expired and are now available to the public. Classics like Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, and The Sun Also Rises are among the thousands of works that entered the public domain this year (Duke).

In other parts of the world, works come into the public domain after the date of the author’s death plus a certain number of years. In the European Union, works by authors who died in 1951 will go into the public domain this year since they have a life-plus-70 year term. Similarly, Canada has a life-plus-50 year term (Duke).

While some works come into the public domain after their copyright has expired, there are a few materials that are ineligible for copyright. In the United States, government works, grammatical rules, ideas, scientific and mathematical principles and theories, and compilations of facts (such as recipes or phone books) are all immediately in the public domain once published (University of California).

Why is the public domain important?

The Duke Center for the Study of Public Domain is a fantastic source for learning about what the public domain is, what it includes, and why it matters! Here are some of the ways the Center has listed for why the public domain is beneficial to everyone:

Inspiration for new works: Film and theatrical adaptations of classic tales, fictional retellings, and sampled songs are all possible because of the public domain. Many famous and beloved Disney movies are the product of the public domain, as it is a source of creative inspiration for storytellers and artists everywhere.

Access to education: Materials in the public domain are free to anyone and are easy to access both online and offline. Instead of having to buy texts or wait for them to become available at public libraries, texts in the public domain can be found on the internet in unlimited quantities. However, if you still want a hard copy of a certain work, it will most likely be a lot cheaper than something that is still restricted under copyright laws, since anyone can publish their own edition of the text. Using works without copyright restrictions reduces textbook costs for college students and makes materials easier to locate; it also allows for annotated editions and updated translations to be published.

Public domain works on ibiblio

ibiblio hosts many sites that house collections of works that are included in the public domain, including photos, books, clipart, magazines, and music!

WPClipart: WPClipart offers over 90,000 images that are free to download and use, with categories such as animals, food, buildings, famous people, flags, and travel. There is also a small collection of children’s books.

New Zealand Section 27: This is an interesting legal archive featuring reports and other documents published by the government of New Zealand throughout the 20th century. While it may be a niche source, it demonstrates the scope of the public domain and is a great way to learn about NZ history.

Project Gutenberg: Project Gutenberg is a library of over 60,000 free eBooks that includes classics, philosophy, science, general fiction, and more. Each text is proofread and available for download in a variety of digital formats. This is a great resource for students, teachers, and all literature enthusiasts!

Musopen: Musopen is a classical music source that provides copyright-free sheet music, audio recordings, and musical education resources like textbooks and apps for students and teachers. Browse the catalog here! *alumni — no longer hosted by ibiblio*

Time Machine: NASA’s Educational Media Archive

nasa.ibiblio.org was created in the late 1990s as a collection of scientific resources for everyone ranging from kindergarteners to adults. The site includes over 580 videos from NASA’s Center for Distance Learning and includes topics like aeronautics, mathematics, technology, and space transportation. Teacher guides and web activities are also included with many of the videos!

While the archive can no longer be accessed through its URL, you can still view it by using the Wayback Machine. This is a project by Internet Archive that allows users to view past versions of webpages. You can access the snapshots of NASA’s Educational Media Archive here!

Many of the videos cannot be accessed directly through nasa.ibiblio.org’s instance on the Wayback Machine, but NASA’s Langley Research Center has posted them separately on the Internet Archive! You can find those videos here, or by searching for creator:”NASA LaRC Office of Education” on the Internet Archive homepage. 

For recent K-12 STEM resources, check out NASA Langley Education, which collaborated with ibiblio to create nasa.ibiblio.org.

Explore: Multimedia Archive Projects

ibiblio hosts many sites that house collections of songs, photos, videos, articles, and more! Here is a list of a few interesting archive projects containing content from all around the world.

The Internet Chinese Music Archive

Here you can find a variety of music from China, including: traditional music, modern music, popular music, folk music, ceremonial music, music of foreign influences, Beijing opera, historical sounds, and children’s songs.

Philm Freax Photo Archive

This site is a gallery of original pictures by photographer Phil Franks of rock stars, celebrities, and hippies from the 60s–90s.

The Vietnam Multimedia Archive

A collection of photographs, songs, art, and poetry from Vietnam. The site is from 1996, but still contains many interesting historical art pieces and images of Vietnamese landmarks!

Guruguha

Guruguha is a site dedicated to South Indian classical music. Here you can find sheet music and information about musical notation, along with copies of historical texts available in English and Sanskrit written about music practices from centuries ago.

Animation!

This site is an archive of animations from the 80s and 90s which were created for VT100 terminals. For instructions on how to get these animations to run, read through this post!