By Lolly Gasaway University of North Carolina
Definition: A public domain work is a creative work that are not protected by copyright and
which may be freely used by everyone. The reasons that the work is not protected include:
(1) the term of copyright for the work has expired; (2) the author failed to satisfy statutory
formalities to perfect the copyright or (3) the work is a work of the U.S. Government.
DATE OF WORK PROTECTED FROM TERM
Created 1-1-78 or after When work is fixed in tangible medium of expression Life + 70 years1(or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation2
Published before 1923 In public domain None
Published from 1923 - 63 When published with notice3 28 years + could be renewed for 47 years, now extended by 20 years for a total renewal of 67 years. If not so renewed, now in public domain
Published from 1964 - 77 When published with notice 28 years for first term; now automatic extension of 67 years for second term
Created before 1-1-78 but not published 1-1-78, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2002, whichever is greater
1-1-78 but published between then and 12-31-2002 1-1-78, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2047 whichever is greater
1 Term of joint works is measured by life of the longest-lived author.
2 Works for hire, anonymous and pseudonymous works also have this term. 17 U.S.C. § 302(c).
3 Under the 1909 Act, works published without notice went into the public domain upon publication. Works published without notice between 1-1-78 and 3-1-89, effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act, retained copyright only if, e.g., registration was made within five years. 17 U.S.C. § 405. (Notes courtesy of Professor Tom Field, Franklin Pierce Law Center
(Dammit Qai! I need a writer's icon!)