Public domain works
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Public Domain


Public domain works allow a user to freely reproduce a work without obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

This article summarizes what is public domain and when a copyright protected work will fall into the public domain.  The public domain means that one can freely use works in which the term of copyright has expired.  Read this article to know when a copyright term has expired for various scenarios.

A work in the public domain may be a book, artwork, photograph, newspaper article, film, video, footage, computer software, music etc.  Many great creative works are in the public domain including works of Shakespeare, Dickens, etc.

A work can also fall into the public domain because it is not copyright protectable such as certain ideas, facts and information.  Given that the copyright term varies from country to country, it is important to note in determining what is public domain works, that a work may have fallen into the public domain in one country but not necessarily another where it may still be protected by copyright.

What Is Public Domain? 

Once the duration of copyright has expired, the work falls into the public domain. E.g. Mozart, Shakespeare. Therefore, the work can be copied without the necessity to obtain permission. It is important to note in determine what is public domain that the term of copyright differs from country to country. So where a work may be protected in one country by copyright, in another it may be in the public domain. (In Europe, the term is different).

Most countries have signed the Berne Convention, an international copyright treaty which requires the copyright term to be for fifty years after an author dies to the end of that calendar year.  However, some countries grant longer copyright terms.

What is public domain in various countries that may be greater than life plus 50?  The countries that grant life plus 70 years include:

Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belgiu, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Rukina Faso, Childe Cosa Rica, Colombia (life plus 80), Cote d”Ivoire (life plus 99), Broatia, Cyrus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dmonica, Ecuador, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Gautemala (life plus 75), Honduras (life plus 75), Hungary, Iceland, India (life plus 60 except posthumous works), Indonesia (50 years after publication), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica (life plus 95/life plus 50), Kosova, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malta, Mexico (life plus 100 and life plus 75 before July 23 2003 for deaths before July 23 1928)/ life plus 50 before Jan 1, 1994 for deaths before Jan 1, 1944), Moldova, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Paraquay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian (varies), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (life plus 75), Samoa (life plus 75), Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland (varies), Turkey, Ukraine, UK United States, Vatican City, Venezuela (life plus 60).  See Wikipedia.  

New Editions, Translations & Adaptations

What is public domain in a new edition, translation, adaptation, illustration, annotation etc.?  Any such new edition or adaptation added to an existing work is subject to a new term of copyright protection and may not fall into the public domain even if the original work was in the public domain. E.g. an edited version of Shakespearean plays. However, the public domain parts of the revised version remain in the public domain.  For instance, the Disney film Frozen was based on Hans Christian Andersen story The Ice Cream which was in the public domain. Therefore, the producers did not need to get permission from the original author or estate as it was no longer in the public domain.

What Is Public Domain?

The following are in the public domain:

What is Public Domain – Notice Requirements?

There is no official mark to alert anyone whether a work has fallen into the public domain.  However, the Creative Commons has created an unofficial Public Domain Mark to let others know that they can freely use the work.  You can read more about the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark.  

Even if a work is in the public domain, it does not mean you can freely use it.  There may be trademark or publicity rights attached to a work.  Therefore, it is important to consult a lawyer to ensure that the rights are free to use and you know what is public domain works and what is not.

Moral Rights

Moral rights last at least as long as the copyright and in some countries may lat forever.



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