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Copyright @SVCC: The Public Domain

Basic introduction to copyright in the educational environment.

The Public Domain

Public Domain image A work that is in the public domain is not protected by copyright. It belongs to everyone and can be copied and shared with no restrictions. Works may be assigned to the public domain or they may enter the public domain in certain circumstances.

Never in copyright

Works published before 1989 without copyright notice, and without subsequent registration within 5 years are exempt from copyright protection.

Copyright expired

Once the copyright term of a work expires, or for whatever reason was not renewed by the creator or copyright owner, it enters the public domain - meaning it belongs to everyone, without restriction.

Dedicated to the Publication Domain

The creator or copyright owner may decide before the expiration of copyright to dedicate the work to the public domain, giving the work to the public to use. A work that has been assigned a CC-0 Creative Commons license by its creator is in the public domain.

Government Documents

Works of the United States Government are excluded from copyright protections. These are born directly into the public domain, free to copy, reuse, adapt or distribute.

The Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States chart created by Cornell University Library can help you understand some of the rules of US copyright and determine a work's copyright status.

Please note that public availability of a work doesn’t mean it is in the public domain!


This library guide is published for informational purposes and should not be interpreted as a substitute for legal advice.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License