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The public domain consists of all the
creative work A creative work is a manifestation of creativity, creative effort including Work of art, fine artwork (sculpture, paintings, drawing, Sketch (drawing), sketching, performance art), dance, writing (literature), filmmaking, and music, composition. Le ...

creative work
to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. As examples, the works of
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's and the " of A ...

William Shakespeare
,
Ludwig van Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (, ; baptised 17 December 177026 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. Beethoven remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music; his works rank amongst the most performed of the classi ...

Ludwig van Beethoven
,
Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (15 April 14522 May 1519) was an Italian of the who was active as a painter, , engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect. While his fame initially rested on his achievements as a painter, he als ...

Leonardo da Vinci
and
Georges Méliès Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès (; ; 8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938) was a French illusionist Magic, which encompasses the subgenres of illusion, stage magic, and close up magic, among others, is a performing art in which audiences are e ...

Georges Méliès
are in the public domain either by virtue of their having been created before copyright existed, or by their copyright term having expired. Some works are not covered by a country's copyright laws, and are therefore in the public domain; for example, in the United States, items excluded from copyright include the formulae of Newtonian physics, cooking recipes,Copyright Protection Not Available for Names, Titles, or Short Phrases
on copyright.gov ''"Listings of ingredients, as in recipes, labels, or formulas. When a recipe or formula is accompanied by an explanation or directions, the text directions may be copyrightable, but the recipe or formula itself remains uncopyrightable."''
and all computer software created before 1974.Lemley, Menell, Merges and Samuelson. ''Software and Internet Law'', p. 34 ''"computer programs, to the extent that they embody an author's original creation, are proper subject matter of copyright."'' Other works are actively dedicated by their authors to the public domain (see waiver); examples include reference implementations of cryptographic algorithms, and the image-processing software ImageJ (created by the National Institutes of Health). The term ''public domain'' is not normally applied to situations where the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as "under license" or "with permission". As rights vary by country and jurisdiction, a work may be subject to rights in one country and be in the public domain in another. Some rights depend on registrations on a country-by-country basis, and the absence of registration in a particular country, if required, gives rise to public-domain status for a work in that country. The term ''public domain'' may also be interchangeably used with other imprecise or undefined terms such as the ''
public sphere The public sphere (german: Öffentlichkeit) is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. A "Public" is "of or concerning th ...
'' or ''
commons The commons is the cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, capabilities, ...

commons
'', including concepts such as the "commons of the mind", the "intellectual commons", and the "information commons".


History

Although the term ''domain'' did not come into use until the mid-18th century, the concept can be traced back to the ancient
Roman law Roman law is the law, legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the ''Corpus Juris Civilis'' (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman emperor J ...
, "as a preset system included in the property right system". The Romans had a large proprietary rights system where they defined "many things that cannot be privately owned" as ''
res nullius ''Res nullius'' (lit: ''nobody's thing'') is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the ...
'', '' res communes'', ''
res publica ''Res publica'' (also spelt as ''rēs pūblica'' to indicate vowel length In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived length of a vowel sound: the corresponding physical measurement is length (phonetics), duration. In some languages vowel l ...
e'' and ''res universitatis''. The term ''res nullius'' was defined as things not yet appropriated. The term ''res communes'' was defined as "things that could be commonly enjoyed by mankind, such as air, sunlight and ocean." The term ''res publicae'' referred to things that were shared by all citizens, and the term ''res universitatis'' meant things that were owned by the municipalities of Rome. When looking at it from a historical perspective, one could say the construction of the idea of "public domain" sprouted from the concepts of ''res communes'', ''res publicae'', and ''res universitatis'' in early Roman law. When the first early copyright law was originally established in Britain with the
Statute of Anne The Statute of Anne, also known as the Copyright Act 1710 (cited either as 8 Ann. c. 21 or as 8 Ann. c. 19), is an act of the Parliament of Great Britain passed in 1710, which was the first statute to provide for copyright Copyright is ...

Statute of Anne
in 1710, public domain did not appear. However, similar concepts were developed by British and French jurists in the 18th century. Instead of "public domain", they used terms such as ''
publici juris ''Publici juris'' is a List of legal Latin terms, legal Latin term, approximately translating to English language, English as "of public right". An example is water in the sea. Many times referred to in discussion of property rights (economics), p ...
'' or ''propriété publique'' to describe works that were not covered by copyright law. The phrase "fall in the public domain" can be traced to mid-19th-century France to describe the end of
copyright term The copyright term is the length of time copyright subsists in a work before it passes into the public domain. In most of the world, this length of time is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. Length of copyright Copyright subsists fo ...
. The French poet
Alfred de Vigny Alfred Victor, Comte de Vigny (27 March 1797 – 17 September 1863) was a French poet and early leader of French Romanticism. He also produced novels, plays, and translations of Shakespeare. Biography Vigny was born in Loches (a town to which he ...

Alfred de Vigny
equated the expiration of copyright with a work falling "into the sink hole of public domain" and if the public domain receives any attention from intellectual property lawyers it is still treated as little more than that which is left when intellectual property rights, such as
copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. ...

copyright
,
patents A patent is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. There are many types of intellectual property, and some countries recognize more than ...
, and
trademarks A trademark (also written trade mark or trade-markThe styling of ''trademark'' as a single word is predominantly used in the United States and Philippines only, while the two-word styling ''trade mark'' is used in many other countries around ...
, expire or are abandoned. In this historical context Paul Torremans describes copyright as a, "little coral reef of private right jutting up from the ocean of the public domain." Copyright law differs by country, and the American legal scholar
Pamela Samuelson Pamela Samuelson is the Richard M. Sherman '74 Distinguished Professor of Law and Information Management at the University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or California) is a public ...
has described the public domain as being "different sizes at different times in different countries".


Definition

Definitions of the boundaries of the public domain in relation to copyright, or intellectual property more generally, regard the public domain as a negative space; that is, it consists of works that are no longer in copyright term or were never protected by copyright law. According to this definition underlines common usage of the term ''public domain'' and equates the public domain to
public property Public property is property that is dedicated to public use. The term may be used either to describe the use to which the property is put, or to describe the character of its ownership (owned collectively by the population of a Sovereign state, sta ...
and works in copyright to
private property Private property is a legal designation for the ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities. Private property is distinguishable from public property Public property is property Property (''latin: Res Privata'') in the Abstract ...
. However, the usage of the term ''public domain'' can be more granular, including for example uses of works in copyright permitted by
copyright exceptions Limitations and exceptions to copyright are provisions, in local copyright law Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative work, usually for a limited time. The creative ...
. Such a definition regards work in copyright as private property subject to
fair-use Fair use is a doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. Fair use is one of the limitations to copyright intended to balance the ...
rights and limitation on ownership. A conceptual definition comes from Lange, who focused on what the public domain should be: "it should be a place of sanctuary for individual creative expression, a sanctuary conferring affirmative protection against the forces of private appropriation that threatened such expression". Patterson and Lindberg described the public domain not as a "territory", but rather as a concept: " ere are certain materials – the air we breathe, sunlight, rain, space, life, creations, thoughts, feelings, ideas, words, numbers – not subject to private ownership. The materials that compose our cultural heritage must be free for all living to use no less than matter necessary for biological survival." The term ''public domain'' may also be interchangeably used with other imprecise or undefined terms such as the ''
public sphere The public sphere (german: Öffentlichkeit) is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. A "Public" is "of or concerning th ...
'' or ''
commons The commons is the cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, capabilities, ...

commons
'', including concepts such as the "commons of the mind", the "intellectual commons", and the "information commons".


Public domain by medium


Public domain books

A public-domain book is a book with no copyright, a book that was created without a license, or a book where its copyrights expired or have been forfeited. In most countries the term of protection of copyright expires on the first day of January, 70 years after the death of the latest living author. The longest copyright term is in Mexico, which has life plus 100 years for all deaths since July 1928. A notable exception is the United States, where every book and tale published before is in the public domain; American copyrights last for 95 years for books originally published between 1925 and 1978 if the copyright was properly registered and maintained. For example: the works of
Jane Austen Jane Austen (; 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry The landed gentry, or the ''gentry'', is a l ...

Jane Austen
,
Lewis Carroll Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (; 27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of children's fiction, notably ' and its sequel '. He was noted for his facility with , logic, and fantasy. The ...

Lewis Carroll
,
Machado de Assis Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (), often known by his surnames as Machado de Assis, ''Machado,'' or ''Bruxo do Cosme Velho Cosme Velho is a neighborhood in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro (; ;), or simply Rio, is the List of ...

Machado de Assis
,
Olavo Bilac Olavo Brás Martins dos Guimarães Bilac (16 December 1865 – 28 December 1918), often known as Olavo Bilac (), was a Brazil Brazil ( pt, Brasil; ), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: ), is the largest country in bot ...

Olavo Bilac
and
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
are in the public domain worldwide as they all died over 100 years ago.
Project Gutenberg Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer Volunteering is a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labour for community service. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, educatio ...
and the
Internet Archive The Internet Archive is an American with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos ...
make tens of thousands of public domain books available online as
ebook An ebook (short for electronic book), also known as an e-book or eBook, is a publication made available in form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on the of computers or other electronic devices. Although sometimes defined as "an ...
s.


Public domain music

People have been creating music for millennia. The first
musical notation Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music played with instrument (music), instruments or singing, sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced sym ...
system, the
Music of Mesopotamia This article details the music of ancient Mesopotamia. Background Cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in act ...
system, was created 4,000 years ago.
Guido of Arezzo Guido of Arezzo or Guido d'Arezzo ( – after 1033) was an Italian music theorist Music theory is the study of the practices and possibilities of music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the ...
introduced Latin musical notation in the 10th century. This laid the foundation for the preservation of global music in the public domain, a distinction formalized alongside copyright systems in the 17th century. Musicians copyrighted their publications of musical notation as literary writings, but performing copyrighted pieces and creating derivative works were not restricted by early copyright laws. Copying was widespread, in compliance with the law, but expansions of those laws intended to benefit literary works and responding to commercial music recording technology's reproducibility have led to stricter rules. Relatively recently, a normative view that copying in music is not desirable and lazy has become popular among professional musicians. US copyright laws distinguish between musical compositions and sound recordings, the former of which refers to melody, notation or lyrics created by a composer or lyricist, including sheet music, and the latter referring to a recording performed by an artist, including a CD, LP, or digital sound file. Musical compositions fall under the same general rules as other works, and anything published before 1925 is considered public domain. Sound recordings, on the other hand, are subject to different rules and are not eligible for public domain status until 2021–2067, depending on the date and location of publishing, unless explicitly released beforehand. The
Musopen Musopen Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Tarzana, California, launched by Aaron Dunn in 2005. It aims to "set music free content, free" by providing music to the public free of charge, without copyrig ...
project records music in the public domain for the purposes of making the music available to the general public in a high-quality audio format. Online musical archives preserve collections of classical music recorded by Musopen and offer them for download/distribution as a public service.


Public domain films

A public-domain film is a
film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pigmented liquid, liquefiable, ...

film
that was never under copyright, was released to public domain by its author or has had its
copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. ...

copyright
expired. In 2016, there were more than 2,000 films in the public domain from every genre, including musicals, romance, horror, noir, westerns, and animated films.


Value

Pamela Samuelson has identified eight "values" that can arise from information and works in the public domain. Possible values include: # Building blocks for the creation of new knowledge, examples include data, facts, ideas, theories, and scientific principle. # Access to cultural heritage through information resources such as ancient Greek texts and Mozart's symphonies. # Promoting education, through the spread of information, ideas, and scientific principles. # Enabling follow-on innovation, through for example expired patents and copyright. # Enabling low cost access to information without the need to locate the owner or negotiate rights clearance and pay royalties, through for example expired copyrighted works or patents, and non-original data compilation. # Promoting public health and safety, through information and scientific principles. # Promoting the democratic process and values, through news, laws, regulation, and judicial opinion. # Enabling competitive imitation, through for example expired patents and copyright, or publicly disclosed technologies that do not qualify for patent protection.


Relationship with derivative works

Derivative works include
translation Translation is the communication of the meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discusse ...

translation
s, musical arrangements, and dramatizations of a work, as well as other forms of transformation or adaptation. Copyrighted works may not be used for derivative works without permission from the copyright owner, while public domain works can be freely used for derivative works without permission. Artworks that are public domain may also be reproduced photographically or artistically or used as the basis of new, interpretive works. Works derived from public domain works can be copyrighted. Once works enter into the public domain, derivative works such as adaptations in book and film may increase noticeably, as happened with
Frances Hodgson Burnett Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett (24 November 1849 – 29 October 1924) was a British novelist and playwright. She is best known for the three children's novels ''Little Lord Fauntleroy'' (published in 1885–1886), ''A Little Prin ...

Frances Hodgson Burnett
's novel ''
The Secret Garden ''The Secret Garden'' is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett first published in book form in 1911, after serialisation in ''The American Magazine'' (November 1910 – August 1911). Set in England, it is one of Burnett's most popular novels and s ...

The Secret Garden
'', which became public domain in the US in 1977 and most of the rest of the world in 1995. By 1999, the plays of Shakespeare, all public domain, had been used in more than 420 feature-length films. In addition to straightforward adaptation, they have been used as the launching point for transformative retellings such as
Tom Stoppard Sir Tom Stoppard (born Tomáš Sträussler, 3 July 1937) is a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter. He has written for television, radio, film, and stage, finding prominence with plays such as ''Arcadia (play), Arcadia'', ''The Coast ...
's ''
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead ''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'' is an absurdist, existential Existentialism ( or ) is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling, ...
'' and
Troma Entertainment Troma Entertainment is an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United ...
's ''
Tromeo and Juliet ''Tromeo and Juliet'' is a 1997 American Independent film, independent Cinema of Transgression, transgressive romantic comedy, romantic black comedy film and a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare's ''Romeo & Juliet'' from T ...
''. Marcel Duchamp's ''
L.H.O.O.Q. upright=1.4, Marcel Duchamp, 1919, ''L.H.O.O.Q.'', published in 391, n. 12, March 1920 ''L.H.O.O.Q.'' () is a work of art by Marcel Duchamp Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp (; ; 28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968) was a French Americans, French-Ame ...
'' is a derivative of Leonardo da Vinci's ''Mona Lisa'', one of thousands of derivative works based on the public domain painting. The 2018 film '' A Star is Born'' is a remake of the 1937 film of the same name, which is in the public domain due to an unrenewed copyright.


Perpetual copyright

Some works may never fully lapse into the public domain. A perpetual crown copyright is held for the
Authorized King James Version The King James Version (KJV), also the King James Bible (KJB) and the Authorized Version, is an English translations of the Bible, English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, which was commissioned in 1604 and publ ...

Authorized King James Version
of the Bible in the UK. While the copyright has expired for the Peter Pan works by J. M. Barrie (the play ''
Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ''Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up'' or ''Peter and Wendy'', often known simply as ''Peter Pan'', is a work by J. M. Barrie, in the form of a 1904 play and a 1911 novel. Both versions tell the story of Peter Pan, a mischievous yet ...
'' and the novel ''Peter and Wendy'') in the United Kingdom, it was granted a special exception under the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988 (Schedule 6) that requires royalties to be paid for commercial performances, publications and broadcasts of the story of Peter Pan within the UK, as long as
Great Ormond Street Hospital Great Ormond Street Hospital (informally GOSH or Great Ormond Street, formerly the Hospital for Sick Children) is a children's hospital Image:The Children's Castle, Helsinki.jpg, Children's Castle (''Lastenlinna''), a former children's hosp ...

Great Ormond Street Hospital
(to whom Barrie gave the copyright) continues to exist. In a paying public domain regime, works that have entered the public domain after their copyright has expired, or
traditional knowledge Traditional knowledge (TK), indigenous knowledge (IK) and local knowledge generally refer to knowledge systems embedded in the cultural traditions of region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ...
and traditional cultural expressions that have never been subject to copyright, are still subject to royalties payable to the state or to an authors' association. The user does not have to seek permission to copy, present or perform the work, but does have to pay the fee. Typically the royalties are directed to support of living artists.


Public domain mark

In 2010, The
Creative Commons Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collect ...
proposed the '' Public Domain Mark'' (PDM) as
symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), m ...

symbol
to indicate that a work is free of known
copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. ...

copyright
restrictions and therefore in the public domain. The public domain mark is a combination of the
copyright symbol The copyright symbol, or copyright sign, (a circled capital letter C for copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative work, usually for a limited time. The c ...

copyright symbol
, which acts as
copyright notice In Copyright law of the United States, United States copyright law, a copyright notice is a notice of statutorily prescribed form that informs users of the underlying claim to copyright ownership in a published work. Copyright is a form of prote ...
, with the international 'no' symbol. The
Europeana Europeana is a web portal A web portal is a specially designed website that brings information from diverse sources, like emails, Internet forum, online forums and Web search engine, search engines, together in a uniform way. Usually, each inf ...
databases use it, and for instance on the
Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons (or simply Commons) is an online repository of free-use images, sounds, other media, and JSON files. It is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation. Files from Wikimedia Commons can be used across all Wikimedia projects in all ...

Wikimedia Commons
in February 2016 2.9 million works (~10% of all works) are listed with the mark.


Application to copyrightable works


Works not covered by copyright law

The underlying idea that is expressed or manifested in the creation of a work generally cannot be the subject of copyright law (see idea–expression divide). Mathematical formulae will therefore generally form part of the public domain, to the extent that their expression in the form of software is not covered by copyright. Works created before the existence of copyright and patent laws also form part of the public domain. For example,
the Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, ''tà biblía'', "the books") is a collection of religious texts or scriptures sacred to Christians, Jews, Samaritans, Rastafari and others. It appears in the form of an anthology, a compilati ...

the Bible
and the inventions of
Archimedes Archimedes of Syracuse (; grc, ; ; ) was a Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its popula ...

Archimedes
are in the public domain. However, translations or new formulations of these works may be copyrighted in themselves.


Expiration of copyright

Determination of whether a copyright has expired depends on an examination of the copyright in its source country. In the United States, determining whether a work has entered the public domain or is still under copyright can be quite complex, primarily because
copyright term The copyright term is the length of time copyright subsists in a work before it passes into the public domain. In most of the world, this length of time is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. Length of copyright Copyright subsists fo ...
s have been extended multiple times and in different ways—shifting over the course of the 20th century from a fixed-term based on first publication, with a possible renewal term, to a term extending to 50, then 70, years after the death of the author. The claim that "pre- works are in the public domain" is correct only for published works; unpublished works are under federal copyright for at least the life of the author plus 70 years. In most other countries that are signatories to the
Berne Convention The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention, is an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne, Switzerland, in 1886. The Berne Convention form ...

Berne Convention
, copyright term is based on the life of the author, and extends to 50 or 70 years beyond the death of the author. (See
List of countries' copyright lengths Copyright is the right to copy and publish a particular work. The terms "copy" and "publish" are quite broad. They include copying in electronic form, the making of translated versions, the creation of a television program based on the work, and p ...
.) Legal traditions differ on whether a work in the public domain can have its copyright restored. In the European Union, the
Copyright Duration Directive Council Directive 93/98/EEC of 29 October 1993 harmonising the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights is a Directive (European Union), European Union directive in the field of Copyright law of the European Union, EU copyright ...
was applied retroactively, restoring and extending the terms of copyright on material previously in the public domain. Term extensions by the US and Australia generally have not removed works from the public domain, but rather delayed the addition of works to it. However, the United States moved away from that tradition with the
Uruguay Round Agreements Act The Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA; ) is an Act of Congress An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by United States Congress, Congress. Acts can affect only individual entities (called private laws), or the general public (public laws). For a ...
, which removed from the public domain many foreign-sourced works that had previously not been in copyright in the US for failure to comply with US-based formalities requirements. Consequently, in the US, foreign-sourced works and US-sourced works are now treated differently, with foreign-sourced works remaining under copyright regardless of compliance with formalities, while domestically sourced works may be in the public domain if they failed to comply with then-existing formalities requirements—a situation described as odd by some scholars, and unfair by some US-based rightsholders. The Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, a German art museum, brought a suit against Wikimedia Commons in 2016 for photographs uploaded to the database depicting pieces of art in the museum. The museum claimed that the photos were taken by their staff, and that photography within the museum by visitors was prohibited. Therefore, photos taken by the museum, even of material that itself had fallen into the public domain, were protected by copyright law and would need to be removed from the Wikimedia image repository. The court ruled that the photographs taken by the museum would be protected under the German Copyright Act, stating that since the photographer needed to make practical decisions about the photograph that it was protected material. The Wikimedia volunteer was ordered to remove the images from the site, as the museum's policy had been violated when the photos were taken.


Government works

Works of the United States Government and various other governments are excluded from copyright law and may therefore be considered to be in the public domain in their respective countries. They may also be in the public domain in other countries as well. The legal scholar Melville Nimmer has written that "it is axiomatic that material in the public domain is not protected by copyright, even when incorporated into a copyrighted work".


Dedicating works to the public domain


Release without copyright notice

Before 1988 in the US, works could be easily given into the public domain by just releasing it without an explicit
copyright notice In Copyright law of the United States, United States copyright law, a copyright notice is a notice of statutorily prescribed form that informs users of the underlying claim to copyright ownership in a published work. Copyright is a form of prote ...
. With the
Berne Convention The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention, is an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne, Switzerland, in 1886. The Berne Convention form ...
Implementation Act of 1988 (and the earlier
Copyright Act of 1976 The Copyright Act of 1976 is a United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. ...
, which went into effect in 1978), all works were by default copyright protected and needed to be actively given into public domain by a
waiver A waiver is the voluntary wikt:relinquishment, relinquishment or Surrender (law), surrender of some known Rights, right or privilege. Regulatory agencies of state departments or the federal government may issue waivers to exempt companies from ...
statement/ anti-copyright can call notice.
Copyright Notice
'', U.S. Copyright Office Circular 3, 2008.
Not all legal systems have processes for reliably donating works to the public domain, e.g.
civil law Civil law may refer to: * Civil law (common law) Civil law is a major branch of the law.Glanville Williams. ''Learning the Law''. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. p. 2. In common law legal systems such as England and Wales and the law of the United ...
of
continental Europe Continental Europe or mainland Europe is the contiguous continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical region ...

continental Europe
. This may even "effectively prohibit any attempt by copyright owners to surrender rights automatically conferred by law, particularly
moral rights Moral rights are rights Rights are legal Law is a system of rules created and law enforcement, enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise defin ...
".


Public-domain-like licenses

An alternative is for copyright holders to issue a license which irrevocably grants as many rights as possible to the general public. Real public domain makes
license A license (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to the United States. Cur ...

license
s unnecessary, as no owner/author is required to grant permission ("
Permission culturePermission culture is a term often employed by Lawrence Lessig and other copyright activists such as Luis Villa and Nina Paley to describe a society in which copyright restrictions are pervasive and enforced to the extent that any and all uses of c ...
"). There are multiple licenses which aim to release works into the public domain. In 2000 the
WTFPL WTFPL is a permissive{{about, , the 1970 British film, Permissive (film), the grammatical mode, Permissive mood, the flavor of software license, permissive free software licence A permissive cell or host is one that allows a virus A viru ...
was released as a public domain like
software license A software license is a legal instrument (usually by way of contract law A contract is a legally binding agreement that defines and governs the rights and duties between or among its parties Image:'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Sk ...
. Creative Commons (created in 2002 by
Lawrence Lessig Lester Lawrence Lessig III (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic, attorney, and political activist. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard ...

Lawrence Lessig
,
Hal Abelson Harold "Hal" Abelson (born April 26, 1947) is the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts Instit ...

Hal Abelson
, and
Eric Eldred Eldred at a Creative Commons board meeting in May, 2007. Eric Eldred (born 1943) is an American literacy Literacy is popularly understood as an ability to read and write in at least one method of writing, an understanding reflected by mai ...

Eric Eldred
) has introduced several public-domain-like licenses, called
Creative Commons license A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright license A public license or public copyright licenses is a license by which a copyright holder as licensor can grant additional copyright permissions to any and all persons ...
s. These give authors of works (that would qualify for copyright) the ability to decide which protections they would like to place on their material. As copyright is the default license for new material, Creative Commons licenses offer authors a variety of options to designate their work under whichever license they wish, as long as this does not violate standing copyright law. For example, a CC BY license allows for re-users to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon material, while also agreeing to provide attribution to the author in any of these cases. In 2009 the
Creative Commons Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collect ...

Creative Commons
released the
CC0 A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work".A "work" is any creative material made by a person. A painting, a graphic, a book, a song/lyrics t ...
, which was created for
compatibility Compatibility may refer to: Computing * Backward compatibility, in which newer devices can understand data generated by older devices * Compatibility card, an expansion card for hardware emulation of another device * Compatibility layer, compone ...
with law domains which have no concept of ''dedicating into public domain''. This is achieved by a public domain waiver statement and a fallback all-permissive license, in case the waiver is not possible.Validity of the Creative Commons Zero 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication and its usability for bibliographic metadata from the perspective of German Copyright Law
by Dr. Till Kreutzer, attorney-at-law in
Berlin, Germany Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as of 31 December 2019 makes it the List of cities in the European Union by ...

Berlin, Germany
The
Unlicense The Unlicense is a public domain equivalent license Public-domain-equivalent license are licenses that grant public-domain-like rights and/or act as waivers. They are used to make Copycopyrighted works usable by anyone without conditions, while a ...
, published around 2010, has a focus on an
anti-copyright Criticism of copyright, perhaps outright anti-copyright sentiment, is a dissenting view of the current state of copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative ...

anti-copyright
message. The Unlicense offers a public domain waiver text with a fallback public domain-like license inspired by permissive licenses but without attribution. Another option is the Zero Clause BSD license, released in 2006 and aimed at software. In October 2014, the
Open Knowledge Foundation Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) is a global, non-profit network that promotes and shares information at no charge, including both content and data. It was founded by Rufus Pollock Rufus Pollock (born 1980) is a researcher, activist and social e ...
recommends the Creative Commons
CC0 A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work".A "work" is any creative material made by a person. A painting, a graphic, a book, a song/lyrics t ...

CC0
license to dedicate content to the public domain, and the ''Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL)'' for data.


Patents

In most countries, the term of rights for patents is 20 years, after which the invention becomes part of the public domain. In the United States, the contents of patents are considered valid and enforceable for 20 years from the date of filing within the United States or 20 years from the earliest date of filing if under 35 USC 120, 121, or 365(c). However, the ''text'' and any ''illustration'' within a patent, provided the illustrations are essentially line drawings and do not in any substantive way reflect the "personality" of the person drawing them, are not subject to copyright protection. This is separate from the ''patent'' rights just mentioned.


Trademarks

A trademark registration may remain in force indefinitely, or expire without specific regard to its age. For a trademark registration to remain valid, the owner must continue to use it. In some circumstances, such as disuse, failure to assert trademark rights, or common usage by the public without regard for its intended use, it could become
generic Generic or generics may refer to: In business * Generic term, a common name used for a range or class of similar things not protected by trademark * Generic brand, a brand for a product that does not have an associated brand or trademark, other t ...
, and therefore part of the public domain. Because trademarks are registered with governments, some countries or trademark registries may recognize a mark, while others may have determined that it is generic and not allowable as a trademark in that registry. For example, the drug acetylsalicylic acid (2-acetoxybenzoic acid) is better known as ''
aspirin Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is a medication used to reduce pain, fever, or inflammation. Specific inflammatory conditions which aspirin is used to treat include Kawasaki disease, pericarditis, and rheumatic fever. Aspirin ...

aspirin
'' in the United States—a generic term. In Canada, however, ''Aspirin'', with an uppercase A, is still a trademark of the German company
Bayer Bayer Aktiengesellschaft, AG (; ) is a German multinational corporation, multinational pharmaceutical company, pharmaceutical and life sciences company and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Headquartered in Leverkusen, ...

Bayer
, while aspirin, with a lowercase "a", is not. Bayer lost the trademark in the United States, the UK and France after World War I, as part of the
Treaty of Versailles The Treaty of Versailles (french: Traité de Versailles; german: Versailler Vertrag, ) was the most important of the peace treaties A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or government ...
. So many copycat products entered the marketplace during the war that it was deemed generic just three years later. Informal uses of trademarks are not covered by trademark protection. For example,
Hormel Hormel Foods Corporation is an American food processing company founded in 1891 in Austin, Minnesota, by George A. Hormel as George A. Hormel & Company. Originally focusing on the packaging and selling of ham, Spam (food), Spam, sausage and oth ...
, producer of the canned meat product
Spam Spam may refer to: * Spam (food) Spam (stylized as SPAM) is a brand of canning, canned cooked pork made by Hormel Foods Corporation. It was introduced by Hormel in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide after its use during World War II. By 2003 ...
, does not object to informal use of the word "spam" in reference to unsolicited commercial email. However, it has fought attempts by other companies to register names including the word 'spam' as a
trademark A trademark (also written trade mark or trade-mark) is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also r ...

trademark
in relation to computer products, despite that Hormel's trademark is only registered in reference to food products (a trademark claim is made within a particular field). Such defences have failed in the United Kingdom.


Public Domain Day

Public Domain Day is an observance of when
copyright Copyright is a type of intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. ...

copyright
s expire and works enter into the public domain. This legal transition of copyright works into the public domain usually happens every year on 1 January based on the individual copyright laws of each country. The observance of a "Public Domain Day" was initially informal; the earliest known mention was in 2004 by Wallace McLean (a Canadian public domain activist), with support for the idea echoed by
Lawrence Lessig Lester Lawrence Lessig III (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic, attorney, and political activist. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard ...

Lawrence Lessig
. a Public Domain Day website lists the authors whose works are entering the public domain.Public Domain Day 2010
at
MetaFilter MetaFilter, known as MeFi to its members, is a general-interest community A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as Norm (social), norms, religion, values, Convention (norm), customs, or Identity (social ...
establishes the existence of the website at the time.
There are activities in countries around the world by various organizations all under the banner Public Domain Day.


See also


References


External links


Internet Archive

Center for the Study of the Public Domain
Duke University {{Authority control Public domain, Articles containing video clips Copyright law Copyright law legal terminology Intellectual property law Stock media