Are historical speeches public domain?

Are historical speeches public domain?

The text of speeches made and written down before 1923 are definitely in the public domain in the United States. This follows the general rule that any work published before 1923 is in the public domain. Any audio recordings of speeches made before 1923 are also certainly public domain, but audio or video recordings of historical speeches are subject to a much more complicated inquiry to judge whether or not they are public domain.

Speeches written and given by employees of the federal government (the President and Congressmen for example) are also in the public domain. This is because of the general rule that all works created by the federal government are in the public domain. The recordings of those speeches may or may not be in the public domain. If the recordings were made directly by the federal government, then the recording is certainly in the public domain, but if the recording was made by a person or company, only the text of the speech is in the public domain; that specific recording is protected by copyright.

C-SPAN's video coverage of the floor proceedings of the U.S. House and Senate is in the public domain. Anyone can use the text of the speeches as well as the full recordings of those speeches that CSPAN makes.

From C-SPAN Classroom's"Copyright Policy for Educators"The video coverage of the floor proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives and of the U.S. Senate is public domain material and is not subject to this license, and as such, may also be used for educational purposes."

However, C-SPAN's coverage of any official events sponsored by Congress and federal agencies is not in the public domain, but CSPAN allows for non-commercial copying, sharing, and posting of that content on the Internet as long as attribution to CSPAN is made.
The text of speeches given by state employees may or may not be in the public domain. This is because state governments, unlike the federal government, can choose to hold onto some rights to some of its intellectual property. It is often the case that state government works, just like federal works, are in the public domain; however, you must do the necessary research in the state you’re in to determine the state/agency’s specific rules regarding its intellectual property.
If you have any questions about whether the specific speech you’d like to reuse is public domain or whether any document or recording is in the public domain in general, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.
Find additional articles by

What's the best way to avoid legal problems for your business or creative work? 

Read our book

Paperback Ebook | Audiobook

Don't Panic is used in undergraduate & graduate classes nationwide to teach business and legal concepts to non-lawyers. Professors & Teachers can request a discounted copy from support @