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Copyright Resources  

A guide to the tricky world of copyright: what is covered, what is not, and how to tell the difference.
Last Updated: Jul 1, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Public Domain Print Page

Where is the Public Domain?

"The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the 'public domain' if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner."

(U.S. Copyright Office Definitions, 2013; emphasis added) 

As of 2013, works created before Dec 31, 1923 have all fallen into the public domain (PD). As copyright law has been amended several times in order to extend copyright protection (to the point that no American work will enter the PD until the 95-year limit hits works created since Jan 1, 1924, which will be on Jan 1, 2019) works can be designated Open Access, which allows for new works to enter the PD immediately, often through the use of Creative Commons licenses.


A thorough table of what is and is not in the public domain as of Jan 1 2013, from Cornell.

Use These! Works in the Public Domain

Works that are in the public domain are free to reuse and repurpose. These works enter the public domain once their term of copyright protection has expired; more recent works can also be designated for public use at their time of creation.

  • The Online Books Page
    A guide to the massive quantity of books in the public domain. This search engine, by John Mark Ockerbloom of University of Pennsylvania, searches several collections of online e-books in the PD, including those digitized by Project Gutenberg and HathiTrust.
  • Bush Memorial Library Public Domain Guide
    A list of sites that provide work in the public domain, including images, music and sounds, and film.


The information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.


This Image is in the Public Domain!

The New York Sunday herald. Ma... Digital ID: 1541071. New York Public Library

"The New York Sunday herald. May 3rd. (1893-1897)"
NYPL Digital Gallery


Books on the Public Domain in Pratt Institute Libraries

Cover Art
The Public Domain - Patti Gima (Editor); Stephen Fishman
Call Number: 346.730482 F537
ISBN: 0873374339
Publication Date: 2000-12-01

Cover Art
Viral Spiral - David Bollier
Call Number: 303.4834 B692 (Manhattan)
ISBN: 1595583963
Publication Date: 2009-01-04

Cover Art
Remix - Lawrence Lessig
Call Number: 346.730482 L639 (Manhattan)
ISBN: 1594201722
Publication Date: 2008-10-16

Images in the Public Domain

These images want to be used and you should most definitely do so, but please cite the source institution. Though many of the public domain images are long out of copyright, citing the source institution (that is, the museum/library/etc. wherein the original image/material is held) makes it easier for others to track down the originals of the images you use. If you use any of these images in a paper, you must include a full citation of the image in your bibliography.

  • Creative Commons Search
    CC Search allows you to search specifically for media that can be used for commercial purposes and/or be modified and reworked, through search engines of sites that use Creative Commons licenses, such as Flickr, YouTube, Europeana, and others.
  • NYPL Digital Gallery
    The New York Public Library provides access to more than 800,000 images from their holdings, "including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more."
  • National Gallery of Art Digital Images
    22,000+ open access images from the collections of the National Gallery of Art.
  • LACMA Image Gallery
    The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's newly updated collection of more than 20,000 images in the public domain.
  • Rijksmuseum Digital Collections
    289,278 images from the Rijksmuseum collections.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    "A database of 17,287,110 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute"
  • British Museum - Collections
    More than 2 million images available for most uses; requires account for download.
  • Yale University Library Digital Collections
    500,000+ images, many of which are in the public domain.

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