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Copyright and Fair Use Guide

What is the Public Domain?

A work in the public domain is one that is ". . .no longer under copyright protection or [one that] failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner" (

You may use a public domain work without obtaining permission.

Attributing / citing the work is still advised so that you and others can locate the original.

Is This Work in the Public Domain?

All works published in the United States before Jan 1, 1929, are in the public domain; copyright restrictions no longer apply.

Works published between 1929 and 1989 may or may not be in the public domain, depending on whether they met certain requirements for notice, registration, and renewal. Verify sources from this period carefully.

Works published after 1989 are most likely fully protected by copyright. They may only be used with permission, unless their creator has taken steps such as applying a Creative Commons license to proactively permit specific kinds of use. Some exceptions may apply for government documents.

Tools to verify registration and renewal of works between 1929 and 1989:


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