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*