VII. How do I figure out if something is copyright protected or public domain?
You can start by looking at the date. Anything made before 1923, no matter what, will be definitely in the public domain. After that you can check out this chart because determining whether something is in the public domain by the date gets a lot harder than that. Most times, it's impossible to determine whether something is in the public domain just by the date.
There are three ways you can find out definitively whether a work is in the public domain. We suggest one of the following search methods, from least expensive to most expensive:
If you live in or near Washington DC or plan to visit DC, then we suggest you head over to the Copyright Office yourself – it is open to the public and anyone can do a search for free during normal business hours.
Consider hiring a private search company. They are cheaper than the option below and provide the same results. We have seen rates as low as $75 per hour.
Finally, consider contacting the Copyright Office and having them do the research for you. Although this can be expensive (about $165 per hour with a two hour minimum), you may rest assure that their answer will be the correct one and you will be able to rely on their answer for your project.