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Public Domain: Is It a Public Domain Work?

Copyright Duration and Public Domain Quick Guide

Determining whether or not a work is in the public domain by using copyright term duration (by date) can be complicated.

Please keep in mind that this chart only deals with works published or created in the United States. This chart covers the basic areas of determining how long a work is covered by copyright.

For more detailed information, as well as copyright durations of foreign works, please consult Peter Hirtle's chart Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, Laura Gasaway's chart When Works Pass Into the Public Domain, or Michael Brewer's interactive web tool Digital Copyright Slider. You can also check the U.S. Copyright Office's Catalog of Copyright Entries to see when a work may have been registered (Digitized through University of Pennsylvania).

Copyright Duration and Public Domain Quick Guide for Literary, Musical, Dramatic, Choreographic, Pictorial, Graphic, Sculptural, or Audiovisual Works

Works that are literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, or audiovisual in nature, as well as motion pictures


Was it published? If the answer is that yes, it was published:

  • Date of creation or publication before 1925
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: None.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: These works are in the public domain.
      • Duration of copyright: These works are in the public domain.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1925-63
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published with notice and not renewed.
      • Duration of copyright: These works are in the public domain.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: These works are in the public domain.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1925-63
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published with notice and renewed.
      • Duration of copyright: 95 years after date of publication.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: 95 years after date of publication.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1925-77
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published without notice.
      • Duration of copyright: These works are in the public domain.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: These works are in the public domain.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1964-77
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published with notice.
      • Duration of copyright: 95 years after date of publication.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: 95 years after date of publication.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1978-present
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Work must be fixed in any tangible medium of expression..
      • Duration of copyright: Author's life plus 70 years.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: Lesser of publication date plus 95 years or creation date plus 120 years.
         

Was it published? If the answer is that no, it was not published:

  • Date of creation or publication before 1978
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: You know the authors' name(s) and you know whether or not they are still living.
      • Duration of copyright: The greater duration of the author's life plus 70 years, or December 31, 2002.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: The greater duration of the author's life plus 70 years, or December 31, 2002.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1978-present
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: You know the authors' name(s) and you know whether or not they are still living.
      • Duration of copyright: Author's life plus 70 years.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: Author's life plus 70 years.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: Any
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Anonymous, pseudonymous, death date of author is unknown
      • Duration of copyright: 120 years after the date of creation.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: 120 years after the date of creation.

Copyright Duration of Sound Recordings

Sound recordings


Was it published? If the answer is that yes, it was published:

  • Date of creation or publication before February 15, 1972
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: None.
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: Covered under state common law until 2067.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: Covered under state common law until 2067.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: February 15, 1972-1978
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published with notice.
      • Duration of copyright: 95 years after date of publication.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: 95 years after date of publication.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: 1978-March 1, 1989
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: Published with notice.
      • Duration of copyright: Author's life plus 70 years.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: Lesser of publication date plus 95 years or creation date plus 120 years.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: March 1, 1989-present
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: None
      • Duration of copyright: Author's life plus 70 years.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: Lesser of publication date plus 95 years or creation date plus 120 years.
         

Was it published? If the answer is that no, it was not published:

  • Date of creation or publication before February 15, 1972
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: None
      • Duration of copyright works made for hire: Covered under state common law until 2067.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: Covered under state common law until 2067.
         
  • Date of creation or publication: February 15, 1972-present
    • Qualifications for copyright duration: None
      • Duration of copyright: Author's life plus 70 years.
      • Duration of copyright for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire: Creation date plus 120 years.​

Sources

When does a copyright expire?