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Basics of copyright rules, restrictions, and permissions for students, faculty and staff.

Public Domain

What is "Public Domain"?

Almost any work created before 1924 is considered to be in the public domain, as is any work created by a United States Government Agency.  No copyright is involved.

However, a new edition of a public domain work could be published with an introduction, commentary, illustrations or other additions that WOULD be covered by copyright. For example, the works of Jane Austen are not under copyright, but if an editor brought out an annotated, illustrated edition, that edition would be under copyright.

Why Isn't Mickey Mouse in the Public Domain?

Back in 1998, the copyright on Disney's first creation--"Steamboat Willie", the first appearance of Mickey Mouse--was about to pass into the public domain. This would mean a potential loss of billions in revenue for the company. The company fought so hard to extend copyright protections that the subsequent law was referred to as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act". Read more about it at 'Why isn't Mickey Mouse in the Public Domain?'

Works created after 1924

Any work created after 1924, with the exception of publications by U. S. government agencies, may be covered by copyright.  For information about copyright for these works, visit the Copyright Information Center at Cornell University.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know whether something is under copyright or in the public domain if I can't find a copyright notice or a publication date?

You can't know for certain without doing a little research.  If you can't find any information that tells you the item IS in the public domain, treat it as if it were copyrighted.

Doesn't the author have to put a copyright notice on the work in order for it to be protected?

No. Copyright exists from the moment a work is put into a tangible form--written, recorded, or on the web.

For further questions or information, please contact Pam O'Sullivan, Copyright Liaison.

Last Updated: Apr 15, 2024 10:08 AM