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.
Just because a work is freely available to view, read, or listen to on the web does NOT mean it is in the public domain. You need to verify the copyright status of the work on the Internet. If it is under copyright, consider whether or not your use would be a fair use or covered by Section 110 (1) or the TEACH act; if you cannot claim those exceptions, you will need to seek permission of the copyright owner.
Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States also addresses the basics of copyright durations of foreign works. Be sure to look under the heading, "Works First Published Outside the U.S. by Foreign Nationals or U.S. Citizens Living Abroad." International treaties that the U.S. has signed with other countries can also have a bearing on copyright durations. For further information on international copyright issues, please see the U.S. Copyright Office’s International Copyright Relations of the United States, Circular 38.
While the earliest year that sound recordings will enter the public domain will be in 2067, there are many pieces of music that are produced for the public domain and are free to use. Please see the tab, "Is it a Public Domain Work?" and "Resources for Public Domain Materials" for more information.
You should double check the laws in that particular state to be sure.