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This guide provides a basic primer about copyright and fair use for instruction. If you have specific questions, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
These pages were created to provide basic copyright information and are not a substitute for legal advice.
Visit the Center for the Study of Public Domain at Duke University to find out what could have entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012.
According to Copyright.gov, "a work of authorship is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection." Works in the Public Domain are appealing because they may be used without requesting copyright permission from the former rights holder. Typically documents produced by the government are excluded from copyright and belong to the public. Other materials generally become public property because of their age.
Materials fall into the Public Domain because their copyright has expired or they were published:
Sections 301 to 305 of the U.S. Copyright Law address the duration of copyright and explain how long materials are copyrighted based upon their publication date, or in some cases, whether or not they were ever published.
Copyright law has undergone many changes, so interpreting when works fall into the Public Domain can be daunting. The following resources can help determine if a work is still under under copyright: