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Copyright and Fair Use: Public Domain

This guide provides information for La Salle University faculty and staff regarding the fair use of copyright protected material in the classroom.

Public Domain--Books

Google Books

HathiTrust  (Public Domain & Copyright Works)

Public Domain--Sound

Very few sound recordings are in the public domain in the United States; in fact, most sound recordings will not enter the public domain until February 2067! However, there are many sound recordings that have been licensed with Creative Commons. See the Creative Commons page for resources.

Library of Congress National Jukebox

Large and growing collection of spoken word and musical works mostly found in the public domain.

Musopen

MP3 recordings of public domain music.

Public Domain--Images

NASA Images

NASA hosts several image collections, including photographs taken by astronauts and images from the Hubble Space Telescope. As works created by the federal government, they are in the public domain.

 

What is the Public Domain?

Public Domain works are not protected by copyright law and, therefore, they are freely available for everyone to use.  There are several ways in which a work passes into the public domain:

  • Work is Not the Type Protected by Copyright Law.  A work must be original, be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," and have some degree of creativity in order for it to be protected by copyright.  Examples of works that do not meet these criteria:
    • Ideas, common facts, hypotheses, theories
    • Names, short phrases
    • Discoveries, processes, systems
    • Note: although ideas, facts, discoveries, hypotheses, theories, processes and systems may not be protected by copyright law, any expression of them could be protected.  For instance, the prose describing a scientific hypothesis in a journal article would be protected by copyright law, but the facts and data surrounding the hypothesis would be in the public domain.  For more information, see Duke University Law School's "What does copyright not cover?" from its site, Public Domain Day Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Term of Copyright Protect Has Expired (or was not renewed).
    • Due to changes in copyright law and treaties, determining the duration of copyright on a work can be very tricky.  In more complicated cases, it may be necessary to consult an attorney or copyright expert.
    • Generally, works published in the United States prior to January 1st, 1923 are in the public domain. 
  • Copyright Owner Dedicated the Work to the Public Domain. There are many modern day artists and authors who license their works through Creative Commons or otherwise dedicate their work to unrestricted use by the public. Web sites where these types of works can be found are listed at the right.
  • Work was created by the U.S. Government.

What this means for your academic projects is that you can use as much of the work as you would like to support your instruction, research, publication, creative work, etc. without needing permission from the original copyright owner.