Mohave Community College Libraries

Using Public Domain Works

What is the Public Domain?

The public domain is a collection of works that are not subject to copyright law.  

When a work is in the public domain, you can freely copy, distribute, display and perform the work, as well as make derivative and commercial works.

There are three classes of public domain works:

1.Works that automatically enter the public domain upon creation because they are not copyrightable:

  • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans, familiar symbols and numbers.
  •  Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices (as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration).
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship (e.g., standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers).
  • Works federal government employees produced within the scope of employment.
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (e.g., spontaneous speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded).

 2.  Works clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain:

  • Creative Commons licenses.
  • ODC Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL).
  • GNU General Public License.
  • BSD licenses.

Copyrights of Works First Published in US

Year of first publication
Note: publication is not creation

Copyright duration

  • Before 1926
  • During 1926–63: without notice, or with notice but not renewed within 28 years of first publication
  • During 1964–77: without notice
  • From 1978 to March 1, 1989: without notice and without registration within 5 years of first publication
  • Work has entered US public domain
  • During 1926–63: with notice and renewed
  • During 1964–77: with notice
  • Copyrighted for 95 years after first publication
  • From 1978 to March 1, 1989: pre-1978 creation with notice, or without notice but registered within 5 years of first publication
  • From March 2, 1989 to 2002: pre-1978 creation
  • If author is known, copyrighted until the later of either 70 years pma or Dec 31, 2047
  • If author is unknown or corporate authorship, the earlier of 95 years after first publication or 120 years after creation, but not earlier than Dec 31, 2047
  • From 1978 to March 1, 1989: post-1977 creation with notice, or without notice but registered within 5 years of first publication
  • From March 2, 1989 to 2002: post-1977 creation
  • Unpublished before 2003 (i.e. first published after 2002)
  • If author is known, copyrighted for 70 years pma
  • If author is unknown or corporate authorship, the earlier of 95 years after first publication or 120 years after creation

pma: “post mortem auctoris,” or "after the author's death"

"Copyright of works first published in US" by Jappalang is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 /color and bullet points changed from original

Not sure if your source is protected by copyright?

Use the Is it Protected by Copyright chart to check and see if a work is in the public domain (for U.S. works only).