What is the Public Domain?
During the course of my lifetime I’ve seen cataclysmic upheavals in the law dealing with “intellectual property” monopolies. This isn’t like the Law of Gravity, these monopoly restrictions on our culture exist only through the imposition of man made laws. The fluidity of the jargon and legal terminology make it extremely difficult for most people to understand copyright issues.
Since additions to copyright are only made possible by removals from the Public Domain, any change in copyright law makes the Public Domain equally confusing. It’s no wonder most of us aren’t entirely sure what the Public Domain is.
This excellent definition clearly explains what is included in today’s “Public Domain.”
A work is considered to be in the public domain when it is not under copyright for one of several reasons:
- It may never have been under copyright;
- it may have passed out of copyright; or
- rights to claim copyright in the work may have been forfeited.
- Also, works created by the U.S. government do not have copyright protection.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “public domain” as “the condition of being free from copyright or patent and, hence, open to use by anyone.”
In other words, you can legally use everything in the Public Domain for anything you want to do with it, including making money, without having to ask permission of anyone, or pay anyone royalties.
The public domain belongs to all of us, equally.
Even with the erosion wreaked by copyright law, the Public Domain remains an incredibly rich cultural resource. For more information, my “Free Culture” page includes links to many Public Domain resources.
The Public Domain definition quoted above is an excerpt from “Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access” Prepared for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Kristin Kelly June 2013 which the Council on Library and Information Resources made available under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license,