Module 2: Copyright, Public Domain & Fair Use

Copyright | Public Domain | Fair Use | Comparison Chart

Public Domain

A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright, which means it’s free for you to use without permission.  Most works enter the public domain because of old age.   Examples include the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, the King James Bible, the novels of Jane Austen, historical letters, and most of the early silent films.  Note that whether a resource is in the public domain may vary by copyright jurisdiction. Wikipedia has compiled a list of copyright durations by country.

As of 2020, public domain includes any work published in the United States before 1925 or works published before 1965 for which copyrights were not renewed. (Renewal was a requirement for works published before 1978.) A smaller group of works fell into the public domain because they were published without a copyright notice, which was necessary for works published in the United States before March 1, 1989. Some works are in the public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection.

In the U.S., any work created by a federal government employee or officer is in the public domain, provided that the work was created in that person’s official capacity. Keep in mind that this rule applies only to works created by federal employees and not to works created by state or local government employees.

All resources that are in the public domain can be considered OER.  Below are examples.


This module was created by Ching-Jung Chen. Portions of the content were adapted from: