The legal term public domain refers to works whose Exclusive right intellectual property rights have expired,
have been forfeited, have been expressly waived, or are inapplicable. [ unprotected on bitlaw.com] For example, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and most of the early , are all now in the public domain by either being created before copyrights existed or by their copyright term expiring. Examples for works not covered by copyright which are therefore in the public domain, are the formulae of Newtonian physics, , [ Copyright Protection Not Available for Names, Titles, or Short Phrases on copyright.gov "Listings of ingredients, as in recipes, labels, or formulas. When a recipe or formula is accompanied by an explanation or directions, the text directions may be copyrightable, but the recipe or formula itself remains uncopyrightable."] and all software before 1974. [Lemley, Menell, Merges and Samuelson. Software and Internet Law, p. 34 "computer programs, to the extent that they embody an author's original creation, are proper subject matter of copyright."] Examples for works actively Waiver into public domain by their authors are reference implementations of cryptographic algorithms, [ SERPENT - A Candidate Block Cipher for the Advanced Encryption Standard "Serpent is now completely in the public domain, and we impose no restrictions on its use. This was announced on the 21st August at the First AES Candidate Conference." (1999)] [ KeccakReferenceAndOptimized-3.2.zip mainReference.c "The Keccak sponge function, designed by Guido Bertoni, Joan, Michaël Peeters and Gilles Van Assche. For more information, feedback or questions, please refer to our website: http://keccak.noekeon.org/Implementation by the designers, Herbert demoted as "the implementer" " title="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/"''">
] [ skein_NIST_CD_121508.zip on skein-hash.info, skein.c "Implementation of the Skein hash function. Source code author: Doug Whiting, 2008. This algorithm and source code is released to the public domain."] NIH's ImageJ, [ disclaimer on rsb.info.nih.gov] and the CIA's World Factbook. [ contributor_copyright on cia.gov "The World Factbook is prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency for the use of US Government officials,... The Factbook is in the public domain"] The term is not normally applied to situations where the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as "under license" or "with permission".
As rights are country-based and vary, a work may be subject to rights in one country and be in the public domain in another. Some rights depend on registrations on a country-by-country basis, and the absence of registration in a particular country, if required, creates public domain status for a work in that country.
Although the term "public domain" did not come into use until the mid-18th century, the concept "can be traced back to the ancient Roman Law, as a preset system included in the property right system."
The Romans had a large proprietary rights system where they defined "many things that cannot be privately owned"
as res nullius
, res communes
, res publicae
and res universitatis
. The term res nullius
was defined as things not yet appropriated.
[Rose, C Romans, Roads, and Romantic Creators: Traditions of Public Property in the Information Age (Winter 2003) Law and Contemporary Problems 89 at p.5, p.4]
The term res communes
was defined as "things that could be commonly enjoyed by mankind, such as air, sunlight and ocean."
The term res publicae
referred to things that were shared by all citizens, and the term res universitatis
meant things that were owned by the municipalities of Rome.
When looking at the public domain from a history
perspective, one could say the construction of the idea of "public domain" sprouted from the concepts of res communes
, res publicae
, and res universitatis
in early Roman law
When the first early copyright law was first established in Britain with the Statute of Anne in 1710, public domain did not appear. However, similar concepts were developed by British and French jurists in the 18th century. Instead of "public domain" they used terms such as publici juris or propriété publique to describe works that were not covered by copyright law.
The phrase "fall in the public domain" can be traced to mid-19th century France to describe the end of copyright term. The French poet Alfred de Vigny equated the expiration of copyright with a work falling "into the sink hole of public domain"
and if the public domain receives any attention from intellectual property lawyers it is still treated as little more than that which is left when intellectual property rights, such as copyright, patents, and, expire or are abandoned. In this historical context Paul Torremans describes copyright as a, "little coral reef of private right jutting up from the ocean of the public domain." Because copyright law is different from country to country, Pamela Samuelson has described the public domain as being "different sizes at different times in different countries".
Definitions of the boundaries of the public domain in relation to copyright, or intellectual property more generally, regard the public domain as a negative space, that is, it consists of works that are no longer in copyright term or were never protected by copyright law.
According to James Boyle this definition underlines common usage of the term public domain and equates the public domain to public property and works in copyright to private property. However, the usage of the term public domain can be more granular, including for example uses of works in copyright permitted by copyright exceptions. Such a definition regards work in copyright as private property subject to fair use rights and limitation on ownership. A conceptual definition comes from Lange, who focused on what the public domain should be: "it should be a place of sanctuary for individual creative expression, a sanctuary conferring affirmative protection against the forces of private appropriation that threatened such expression". Patterson and Lindberg described the public domain not as a "territory", but rather as a concept: "There are certain materials – the air we breathe, sunlight, rain, space, life, creations, thoughts, feelings, ideas, words, numbers – not subject to private ownership. The materials that compose our cultural heritage must be free for all living to use no less than matter necessary for biological survival." The term public domain may also be interchangeably used with other imprecise and/or undefined terms such as the "public sphere" or "commons", including concepts such as "commons of the mind", the "intellectual commons", and the "information commons".
Public domain by medium
Public domain books
A public domain book is a book with no copyright, a book that was created without a license, or a book where its copyrights expired
or have been forfeited.
Every book and tale written prior to 1923 (or 1947 in most countries) is in the public domain, among them, every book written by Jane Austen
, Lewis Carroll
, Edgar Allan Poe and H. G. Wells.
Public domain music
Music has been created and played by humans for millennia. An object identified as a possible flute (the Divje Babe Flute) is more than 40,000 years old. Even if humans had musical instruments and made music there was a need for a musical notation
system to be able to preserve song through writing. The first such system, the Music of Mesopotamia notation system, was created 4000 years ago. In the 10th century Guido of Arezzo introduced Latin musical notations. All this laid the foundation for the preservation of global music belonging to the public domain since the beginning of musical history to the present.
The Musopen project records music in the public domain for the purposes of making the music available to the general public in a high-quality audio format. Online musical archives such as Archive.com preserve collections of classical music recorded by Museopen and offer them for download/distribution as a public service.
Public domain films
A public domain film
is a film
that was released to public domain by its author or because its copyright
has expired. In 2016 there are more than 2,000 films on public domain in every genre, from musicals to romance, horror to animated movies and noir to western movies.
has identified eight "values" that can arise from information and works in the public domain.
Possible values include:
Building blocks for the creation of new knowledge, examples include data, facts, ideas, theories, and scientific principle.
Access to cultural heritage through information resources such as ancient Greek texts and Mozart's symphonies.
Promoting education, through the spread of information, ideas, and scientific principles.
Enabling follow-on innovation, through for example expired patents and copyright.
Enabling low cost access to information without the need to locate the owner or negotiate rights clearance and pay royalties, through for example expired copyrighted works or patents, and non-original data compilation.
Promoting public health and safety, through information and scientific principles.
Promoting the democratic process and values, through news, laws, regulation, and judicial opinion.
Enabling competitive imitation, through for example expired patents and copyright, or publicly disclosed technologies that do not qualify for patent protection.
Relationship with derivative works
, musical arrangements, and
of a work, as well as other forms of transformation or adaptation.
Copyrighted works may not be used for derivative works without permission from the copyright owner,
while public domain works can be freely used for derivative works without permission.
, World Intellectual Property Organisation, Kluwer Law International.
. ISBN 9789041109385
Artworks that are public domain may also be reproduced photographically or artistically or used as the basis of new, interpretive works.
Works derived from public domain works can be copyrighted.
[ Public Domain Trouble Spots - Copyright Overview by Rich Stim - Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center . Section called "Public Domain Works That Are Modified".]
Once works enter into the public domain, derivative works such as adaptations in book and film may increase noticeably, as happened with Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel The Secret Garden, which became public domain in 1987.
By 1999, the plays of Shakespeare, all public domain, had been used in more than 420 feature-length films. [Young, Mark (ed.). The Guinness Book of Records 1999, Bantam Books, 358; Voigts-Virchow, Eckartm (2004), Janespotting and Beyond: British Heritage Retrovisions Since the Mid-1990s, Gunter Narr Verlag, 92.] In addition to straightforward adaptation, they have been used as the launching point for transformative retellings such as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Troma Entertainment's Romeo and Juliet. Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. is a derivative of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of thousands of derivative works based on the public domain painting.
Some works may never fully lapse into the public domain. A perpetual crown copyright
is held for the Authorized King James Version of the Bible in the UK.
While the copyright of the Peter Pan works by J. M. Barrie (the play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and the novel Peter and Wendy) has expired in the United Kingdom, it was granted a special exception under the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988 (Schedule 6)
that requires royalties to be paid for commercial performances, publications and broadcasts of the story of Peter Pan within the UK, as long as Great Ormond Street Hospital (to whom Barrie gave the copyright) continues to exist.
Public domain mark
The Creative Commons proposed in 2010 the Public Domain Mark
(PDM) as symbol
to indicate that a work is free of known copyright
restrictions and therefore in the public domain.
The public domain mark is analogous to the copyright symbol
, which acts as copyright notice
. The Europeana
databases use it, and for instance on the Wikimedia Commons in February 2016 2.9 million works (~10% of all works) are listed as PDM
[ Category:CC-PD-Mark in February 2016]
Application to copyrightable works
Works not covered by copyright law
The underlying idea
that is expressed or manifested in the creation of a work generally cannot be the subject of copyright law (see idea–expression divide). Mathematical formulae will therefore generally form part of the public domain, to the extent that their expression in the form of software is not covered by copyright.
Works created before the existence of copyright and patent laws also form part of the public domain. For example, the Bible and the inventions of Archimedes are in the public domain, but copyright may exist in translations, or new formulations, or digitized editions of these works, so for example most translations of the Bible into foreign languages and the digital editions of these are copyrighted.
Expiration of copyright
Determination of whether a copyright has expired depends on an examination of the copyright in its source country.
In the United States, determining whether a work has entered the public domain or is still under copyright can be quite complex, primarily because have been extended multiple times and in different ways—shifting over the course of the 20th century from a fixed-term based on first publication, with a possible renewal term, to a term extending to 50, then 70, years after the death of the author. The claim that "pre-1923 works are in the public domain" is correct only for published works; unpublished works are under federal copyright for at least the life of the author plus 70 years.
In most other countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention, copyright term is based on the life of the author, and extends to 50 or 70 years beyond the death of the author. (See List of countries' copyright lengths.)
Legal traditions differ on whether a work in the public domain can have its copyright restored. In the European Union, the Copyright Duration Directive was applied retroactively, restoring and extending the terms of copyright on material previously in the public domain. Term extensions by the U.S. and Australia generally have not removed works from the public domain, but rather delayed the addition of works to it. However, the United States moved away from that tradition with the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, which removed from the public domain many foreign-sourced works that had previously not been in copyright in the US for failure to comply with US-based formalities requirements. Consequently, in the US, foreign-sourced works and US-sourced works are now treated differently, with foreign-sourced works remaining under copyright regardless of compliance with formalities, while domestically-sourced works may be in the public domain if they failed to comply with then-existing formalities requirements—a situation described as odd by some scholars, and unfair by some US-based rightsholders.
[Dennis Karjala, "Judicial Oversight of Copyright Legislation", 35 N. Ky. L. Rev. 253 (2008).]
Works of the United States Government and various other governments are excluded from copyright law and may therefore be considered to be in the public domain in their respective countries.
[ Copyright Office Basics ]
They may also be in the public domain in other countries as well. "It is axiomatic that material in the public domain is not protected by copyright, even when incorporated into a copyrighted work."
[Melville Nimmer, and David Nimmer (1997). Nimmer on Copyright, section 13.03(F)(4). Albany: Matthew Bender.]
Dedicating works to the public domain
Release without copyright notice
Before 1988 in the US, works could be easily given into the public domain by just releasing it without an explicit Copyright notice
. With the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 (and the earlier Copyright Act of 1976, which went into effect in 1978), all works were by default copyright protected and needed to be actively given into public domain by a waiver
statement/anti-copyright can call notice.
[ Copyright Notice , U.S. Copyright Office Circular 3, 2008.]
Not all legal systems have processes for reliably donating works to the public domain, e.g. civil law of continental Europe. This may even "effectively prohibit any attempt by copyright owners to surrender rights automatically conferred by law, particularly moral rights".
Public domain like licenses
An alternative is for copyright holders to issue a licence which irrevocably grants as many rights as possible to the general public. Real public domain makes
unnecessary, as no owner/author is required to grant permission ("Permission culture"). There are multiple licenses which aim to release works into the public domain. In 2000 the WTFPL
was released as a public domain like software license
[ Version 1.0 license on anonscm.debian.org]
In 2009 the Creative commons
released the CC0, which was created for compatibility with law domains which have no concept of dedicating into public domain
. This is achieved by a public domain waiver statement and a fall-back all-permissive license, in case the waiver is not possible.
[ Validity of the Creative Commons Zero 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication and its usability for bibliographic metadata from the perspective of German Copyright Law by Dr. Till Kreutzer, attorney-at-law in Berlin, Germany]
, published around 2010, has a focus on an Anti-copyright
message. The Unlicense offers a public domain waiver text with a fall-back public domain-like license inspired by permissive licenses but without attribution.
[ the-unlicense-a-license-for-no-license on ostatic.com by Joe Brockmeier (2010)] [ The Unlicense on unlicense.org]
In October 2014 the Open Knowledge Foundation recommends the Creative Commons CC0 license to dedicate content to the public domain,
[ licenses on opendefinition.com] [ Creative Commons 4.0 BY and BY-SA licenses approved conformant with the Open Definition by Timothy Vollmer on creativecommons.org (27 December 2013)] and the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL) for data. [ pddl on opendatacommons.org]
In most countries the term of rights for patents is 20 years, after which the invention becomes part of the public domain. In the United States, the contents of patents are considered valid and enforceable for 20 years from the date of filing within the United States or 20 years from the earliest date of filing if under 35 USC 120, 121, or 365(c).
[Manual of Patent Examining Procedure available at ]
However, the text
and any illustration
within a patent, provided the illustrations are essentially line drawings and do not in any substantive way reflect the "personality" of the person drawing them, are not subject to copyright protection.
This is separate from the patent
rights just mentioned.
A trademark registration may remain in force indefinitely, or expire without specific regard to its age. For a trademark registration to remain valid, the owner must continue to use it. In some circumstances, such as disuse, failure to assert trademark rights, or common usage by the public without regard for its intended use, it could become generic, and therefore part of the public domain.
Because trademarks are registered with governments, some countries or trademark registries may recognize a mark, while others may have determined that it is generic and not allowable as a trademark in that registry. For example, the drug "acetylsalicylic acid" (2-acetoxybenzoic acid) is better known as aspirin in the United States—a generic term. In Canada, however, "Aspirin", with an uppercase A, is still a trademark of the German company Bayer, while aspirin, with a lowercase "a", is not. Bayer lost the trademark in the United States, the UK and France after World War I, as part of the Treaty of Versailles. So many copycat products entered the marketplace during the war that it was deemed generic just three years later.
[ Aspirin , World of Molecules]
Bayer also lost the trademark in the same jurisdictions for "Heroin" which it trademarked a year before it trademarked Aspirin.
Although Hormel resigned itself to genericide,
it has fought attempts by other companies to register "spam" as a trademark spamming.
Public Domain Day
Public Domain Day is an observance of when
expire and works enter into the public domain.
This legal transition of copyright works into the public domain usually happens every year on 1 January based on the individual copyright laws of each country.
The observance of a "Public Domain Day" was initially informal; the earliest known mention was in 2004 by Wallace McLean (a Canadian public domain activist),
[ Happy Public Domain Day!, Wallace J.McLean, 1 January 2004.] with support for the idea echoed by Lawrence Lessig. a Public Domain Day website lists the authors whose works are entering the public domain. [ Public Domain Day 2010 at MetaFilter establishes the existence of the website at the time.] There are activities in countries around the world by various organizations all under the banner Public Domain Day.