The top 5 things New Media Rights thinks you should know about the public domain.

At New Media Rights we work to make the public domain more accessible. In celebration of copyright week here are the top five things you need to know about the public domain.

5. No new works will fall into the public domain in the US until 2019.

Due to extensions in US copyright law back in the 60’s and 70’s no new works will enter the public domain in the US until 2019. Notice we say the US here. In countries where the copyright term is life plus 70 years (such as Brazil and EU members) and life plus 50 (including Canada and New Zealand) works did fall into the public domain this year including  great works like The Little Prince and the classic painting “The Scream”.

4. Finding out if some works are in the public domain in the US may still cost you.

Works created between 1923 and 1964 fall into a grey area; they may be in the public domain depending on if their copyright was renewed 28 years from the date of the original copyright. Unfortunately, finding that renewal record will probably cost you. The only official records of renewal are held by the Copyright Office in Washington D.C.  Since, records before January 1, 1978 are not available online; the only way to gain access to these accurate and official records of copyright renewals is to either:

  1. Go to the Copyright office in person, in Washington D.C., and research their records using paper card catalogs OR;
  2. Pay the copyright office $200 an hour to search the copyright records for the original copyright and the renewal notice.

While the copyright office is actively seeking to digitize these records and make them searchable, given the budget cuts the office has faced in the past few years this will likely be a lengthy process.

3. Finding out what is in the public domain doesn’t always have to be hard.

New Media Rights has great guides to help you figure out when something falls into the public domain. We also have a guide that will help you find public domain and openly licensed works to use in your own creative works. We also have several YouTube videos that help answer commonly asked questions about the public domain.

2. You can put your work into the public domain.

Not sure you want your great grandchildren fighting over the rights to your independent film? Maybe you think your research would do more good to the world if folks could do whatever they wanted to do with it? Or maybe you’re worried about your work falling into obscurity? 

Although in the US copyright is granted from the moment of fixation, you can affirmatively put your work in the public domain for free! Although there a few different options for putting your work in the public domain, using the Creative Commons Public Domain Designation is one of the more straightforward ways and you can learn more about that option here!

1. Still have a question about the public domain? That’s what we’re here for!

If you have a question about the public domain you can contact us via our contact form here. You can also sign on to support Copyright Week’s four principles, including the importance of building a robust public domain, through the EFF here.


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