What’s Public Domain?

What’s Public Domain? The term public domain refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws , such as copyright , trademark or patent laws. 

The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use public domain work without obtaining permissions, but no one can ever own it. 

What’s Public Domain will examine : 

  • What are examples of public domain?
  • Where is the public domain?
  • How do you know if something is a public domain?
  • What content is public domain?
  • Where to find public domain images?
  • Where to find public domain books?
  • How can you monetize public domain?

What are examples of Public Domain?

Some examples are :  

  • United States Federal legislative enactments and other official documents.
  • Books, movies, short phrases, slogans, music, images, paintings, patents, lettering or coloring
  • Plots, characters and themes from works of fiction

Where is the Public Domain?

If the work was published in the United States of America between 1926 and 1978 without a notice, it is in public domain. If there is a notice on any work, it may be protected for 95 years from the date of its publication.

How do you know if something is a Public Domain?

Search for the work in the catalog of copyright entries, a list of all works registered with the U.S copyright office will be available. There are 3 broad ways in which a work enters public domain.

  1. The United States government created the work.
  2. The term of the copyright for the work expired.
  3. The original author of the work failed to renew or satisfy other formal requirements to claim his/her interest in the copyright.

What content is Public Domain?

A public domain image is a photo, book, clip art or vector where copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. These images can be used by almost anyone for personal and commercial use.  Once a work enters public domain you are free to use it without asking for permission or paying royalties.

Where to find Public Domain images?

There are 3 ways that public domain images occur : 

  1. The image is assigned to the public domain through a Creative Commons Zero ( CC0) license or similar release
  2. The image is not copyrightable
  3. The copyright for the image has expired

Here are 7 top websites where you can find free public domain images :

  • Wikimedia Commons – one of the world’s largest domain media files, images. Please note that Wikimedia Commons does not guarantee the correctness of the licensing for each image, so make sure to triple-check the license tag for each individual image
  • Unsplash Unsplash is made up of a collective of photographers who were sick of “traditional” stock imagery, so they decided to offer their own high-resolution images for free. They are now a creative community with millions of engaged users and 250,000+ exclusive photos. All photos on the site can be copied, modified and distributed (including for commercial purposes) under a custom license (that is essentially the same as a CC0 license), without you having to ask permission or provide attribution.
  • Flickr commons – Worldwide, archives and libraries partner with FlickrCommons and contribute their own public domain images. It’s a great resource for finding free public domain images from all over the world, not just from the United States. FlickrCommons’ images contain no known copyright restrictions, but (as always) it’s not a guarantee—so do your research.
  • Public domain pictures 

Public Domain Pictures includes lots of high-quality free public domain images, although some photos are only available with a premium membership to the site.

Be sure to check the license listed on each individual photo, since some require that your credit the author (not great for commercial designs). You’ll also want to be sure that a release was obtained by the author or yourself for images of people or property.

  • Foodies Feed – need great food photos ? Authentic photos of food and beverages !
  • Old Book IllustrationsOld Book Illustrations  a really nice collection of public domain illustrations scanned from old books and vector illustrations. Perfect to add some vintage appeal.
  • Magdeleine – high quality stock photos that doesn’t look like stock. Be sure to filter down to CC0 licensed images, since some photos do require attribution

Where to find Public Domain books?

Here are 7 top websites where you can find free public domain books:

  • Project Gutenberg– Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971 and is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of books in the public domain. As of 20 May 2020, Project Gutenberg had reached 62,108 items in its collection of free eBooks
  • Google Books -Google not only has a paid bookstore that is a part of the Google Play ecosystem, but it also offers millions of free public domain books. It has partnered with academic libraries all over the world to digitize their entire archives.
  • Internet Archive -Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to over 29,000,000 books and texts. Over 6,000,000 titles are fully accessible public domain eBooks.
  • Open Library – Open Library provides online digital copies in multiple formats, created from images of many public domain, out-of-print, and in-print books. It provides online access to 3,000,000 public domain and out-of-print books.
  • ManyBooks – offers more than 50,000 free public domain books for download. The site is well organized so you can find books as easily as possible. You can browse the free books by genre, title, author, or search for any book you want by keywords.
  • Europeana– Europeana works with thousands of European archives, libraries and museums to share cultural heritage for enjoyment, education and research. This website gives you access to millions of books, music, artworks and more – with sophisticated search and filter tools to help you find what you’re looking for.
  • Classic Literature – On Classic Literature, public domain books are extremely well organized into collections: Classic Literature, Children’s Picture Books, British Authors, the complete works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and lots more.

How can you monetize public domain?

You can repurpose public domain content in a plethora of ways. There are thousands of listings of downloadable prints that are currently sold on Etsy , that was found in public domain. The print on demand platforms like Redbubble, Spring , Printful have items on sale that were public domain. The products range from tee shirts, mugs, pillow cases, etc. You would need to be creative with the artwork you acquire from public domain, making your product unique. Public domain books can be repurposed with different book covers, transformed to audio books, etc.

In concluding researching what comprises public domain is really fascinating . You are limited to your imagination as to how you can repurpose this readily available free content as your own. Be careful and research the license on the public domain content , the license has to be CC0.

Access a free checklist that highlights top 5 reasons why public domain is great!