Public domain works are not protected by copyright law and are freely available for everyone to use.
Creative Commons, discussed elsewhere in this guide, has created tools to make it easier to produce works for the public domain or identify when you use a work that is already in the public domain.
This section was created using information from Creative Commons Public Domain at https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/
Ideas and facts
Works with expired copyrights
Works governed by early copyright statutes that failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection, i.e., notice, registration, and renewal requirements
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
You can use as much of the public domain work as you would like to support your instruction, research, publication, creative work, etc., without needing permission from the original copyright owner. Here are some examples of what you can do with public domain works:
You are an MFA candidate in Media Arts or Theatre and want to create your own adaptation, play script, or screenplay of Willa Cather's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours, originally published in 1922.
You are an English Literature student analyzing some poems written by American poet, Elinor Wylie, from the collection of poetry, Nets to Catch the Wind, published in 1921 and need to reprint the poems in your project.
You are a Music student who would like to publicly perform Beethoven's Cello Sonatas in a recital.
You are a faculty member in Art publishing a book about World War II posters created by U.S. Government agencies and want to reprint them in your book. Here's an example provided by Northwestern University Libraries.
You are a PhD candidate in one of the sciences and would like to challenge a scientific hypothesis made by another scientist for part of your dissertation.