Works in the public domain are available for all to copy and use without restriction. Public domain works include older works or works created by the federal government.
With limited exceptions for foreign works, once a work falls into the public domain, its copyrights cannot be regained.
Two different copyright duration structures exist today for determining whether a work has fallen into the public domain:
- Works created before 1978 are protected from publication for an initial 28-year term of protection. (Generally, publication occurs when a work is published; it is the first date of public release.) After the initial term, copyrights in these works had to be renewed; if not renewed, the copyright expired and the work was ejected into the public domain. Renewal is now automatic and the copyrights in these older works are renewed for 67-year terms.
- Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are protected from creation--when the work is fixed in a tangible medium. Copyrights exist for the life of the author plus 70 years. Works with corporate authors, works made for hire and anonymous works are protected for the shorter of either 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.
Page Updated 11/18/04