As you begin to consider using a published work, either in course-related instruction or in scholarly research, you should check to see if that work resides in the public domain. Works in the public domain are freely available to use without restriction because either they are ineligible for copyright protection, or the copyrights associated with them no longer apply. This may be for a variety of reasons, but is usually the result of the copyright expiring or the rightsholder neglecting, purposefully or not, to renew copyright registration. Works and information contained within the public domain represent some of the most vital resources available to students and faculty, serving as the foundation for transformative uses of existing material, all of which may be freely reproduced and distributed in class or digitized and placed on course sites.
Content in public domains vary from country to country. What may be freely available in one part of the world, may not be in other parts. For example, when James Joyce's works entered the public domain in Ireland and other parts of Europe in early 2012, this did not extend to the United States public domain. Copyright laws in general differ depending upon where the work was orginally published, and where rightsholders still retain control over their work. It is worth noting that the United States has some of the most restrictive copyright laws in the world.
There is a wealth of information that does not qualify for federal copyright protection. Some of this includes:
- Images (photographs, works of art, graphics, etc.)
- Ideas and facts
- Most U.S. government works (projects written by non-government authors with federal funding may be copyright protected)
- Scientific principles, theorems, mathematical formulae, laws of nature
- Scientific and other research methodologies, statistical techniques and educational processes
- Laws, regulations, judicial opinions, government documents and legislative reports
- Words, names, numbers, symbols, signs, rules of grammar and diction, and punctuation
Considerable content is available from U.S. government sources, all free to the public and digitized for ease of access.
The digitization of public domain books began decades ago. Recently, many cooperative projects have developed between partnerships of interested organizations, to establish a comprehensive and searchable repository of public domain texts, with the ultimate goal of making freely available millions of volumes of public domain titles.
Music and lyrics published in 1922 or earlier are in the Public Domain in the United States. No one can claim ownership of a song in the public domain, therefore public domain songs may be used by anyone. Music recordings, however, are copyright protected separately from musical compositions. There are no sound recordings in the U.S Public Domain. If you need a music recording - even a recording of a public domain song - you will either have to record it yourself or license an existing recording.
Please note that the above information is for reference purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. It is advisable to always conduct a Fair Use Analysis whenever there is a question regarding the lawful use of copyrighted material. If, after careful evaluation, it is determined that the use of particular material would violate copyright law, or if you need to purchase copyright permissions for such use, please contact Matthew Van Sleet at 781.891.2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.