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Copyright: Public Domain

Public Domain Defined

Copyright protection doesn't last forever.

When it expires, works enter the public domain. The public owns these works. At that point, anyone can use them freely without asking permission or paying a fee. In general, works are in the public domain if:

  • they were published in the United States before 1923, OR
  • they were published before 1964 and the copyright wasn't renewed, OR
  • life of the author plus 70 years have passed

In addition, all U.S. government publications are in the public domain.

Public domain works are ideal for many projects, especially those that extend beyond educational uses. 

However, it can be tricky to figure out exactly when a specific work has entered the public domain. Use Cornell University Librarian Peter W. Hirtle's handy chart to figure out whether a particular work qualifies.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Remember, even when using a work that is in the public domain, it's a good idea to provide attribution for the work. 

Finding Public Domain Books

It's easy to find public domain books online.

Millions of full-length texts whose copyright has expired are freely available to read on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

In some cases, you can even download them onto an eReader device such as a Kindle.

Find them here:


Helpful Links:
Public Domain