This is the "Public Domain & Creative Commons" page of the "Copyright Information for ResU Personnel" guide.
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Copyright Information for ResU Personnel  

Please note that the majority of information regarding copyright laws came from the University of Florida Libraries at Some information has been retracted and added to cater to the needs of the ResU Community.
Last Updated: Jan 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Public Domain & Creative Commons Print Page

Public Domain Overview

Public Domain works are not protected by copyright law and, therefore, they are freely available for everyone to use.  There are several ways in which a work passes into the public domain:

  • Work is Not the Type Protected by Copyright Law.  A work must be original, be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," and have some degree of creativity in order for it to be protected by copyright.  Examples of works that do not meet these criteria:
    • Ideas, common facts, hypotheses, theories
    • Names, short phrases
    • Discoveries, processes, systems
    • Note: although ideas, facts, discoveries, hypotheses, theories, processes and systems may not be protected by copyright law, any expression of them could be protected.  For instance, the prose describing a scientific hypothesis in a journal article would be protected by copyright law, but the facts and data surrounding the hypothesis would be in the public domain.  For more information, see Duke University Law School's Public Domain FAQs.
  • Term of Copyright Protect Has Expired (or was not renewed).
    • Due to changes in copyright law and treaties, determining the duration of copyright on a work can be very tricky.  In more complicated cases, it may be necessary to consult an attorney or copyright expert.
    • A public domain chart, produced by Cornell University, is very useful for determining the term of copyright protection for a work.
    • Generally, works published in the United States prior to January 1st, 1923 are in the public domain. 
  • Copyright Owner Dedicated the Work to the Public Domain. There are many modern day artists and authors who license their works through Creative Commons or otherwise dedicate their work to unrestricted use by the public. Web sites where these types of works can be found are listed at the right.
  • Work was created by the U.S. Government.

What this means for your academic projects is that you can use as much of the work as you would like to support your instruction, research, publication, creative work, etc. without needing permission from the original copyright owner.

Public Domain - Images

  • American Memory: Photos and Prints
    From the Library of Congress, nearly 70 collections of photos, much of which is in the public domain, but be sure to check for a copyright statement.
  • NASA Images
    NASA hosts several image collections, including photographs taken by astronauts and images from the Hubble Space Telescope. As works created by the federal government, they are in the public domain.
  • PD Photo
    Nice collection of royalty free photos.
  • Best Places to Find Free High-Res Images
    This website has compiled a comprehensive list of online resources for high-res public domain and Creative Commons licensed images for use on web pages and other resources.

Sound Recordings

Very few sound recordings are in the public domain in the United States; in fact, most sound recordings will not enter the public domain until February 2067! However, there are many sound recordings that have been licensed with Creative Commons.

  • CC Mixter
    A community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples licensed under Creative Commons licenses. Music on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You are free to download and sample from music on this site and share the results.
  • Jamendo
    Community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses.
  • Library of Congress National Jukebox
    Large and growing collection of spoken word and musical works mostly found in the public domain.

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