U.S. Public Domain

Public Domain is a term that refers to copyrightable material that is not covered by copyright protection.                                                              ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

  • Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the creator.
  • Public Domain applies to a work's copyright, not the personal rights of those appearing within those works. 
  • All public domain material should be credited to the original source. Please review the Credit Line Quick Guide for more information.
  • When in doubt, it is always best to obtain permission for all third-party content used within your work.
  • Public domain only applies to a work published in the U.S. ​​​​​​​
  • Copyright rules vary significantly around the world. 
  • For works created and/or published in the United States, there are three primary ways the work may enter the public domain

Three ways a U.S. Work enters the Public Domain

1. Expiration of Copyright Term

  • Copyright protection in the United States has an expiration date. 
  • The duration of copyright depends on a number of factors:
    • The date the work is created/published
    • Whether the copyright was registered and renewed
    • The life span(s) and contributions of the author(s)
    • Whether the work is anonymous or a work made for hire.   
  • Here are a few simplified guidelines:
    • Works published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923 are in the public domain.
    • Works published in the U.S. between January 1, 1923 and January 1, 1978 are likely still protected. 
    • Works created/published in the U.S. on or after January 1, 1978 are generally protected for 70 years after the death of the last living author.
    • For anonymous works and works made for hire, works are protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation (if unpublished).​​​​​​​

2. U.S. Federal Government Source 

  • Works prepared by an officer, employee, or agent of the United States federal government as part of that person's official duties are in the public domain.  ​​​​​
  • Federal government material may contain third-party material that is protected by copyright, which may require permission.
    • Please be sure to closely review material for credit lines indicating a third-party source. 
  • State government material generally is not in the public domain.  
    • Always check the terms of use prior to using any state government material.
    • Obtain permission when in doubt. 

3. Copyright Holder Intention 

  • A copyright holder has the option of intentionally placing his/her work in the public domain. 
  • When this happens, the copyright holder relinquishes any and all claim to copyright.  
  • An explicit Public Domain notice by the copyright holder is required


A work lacking a copyright statement or appearing in a publicly accessible location does not mean it is in the public domain. When in doubt, request permission. If you have questions regarding public domain, please contact your Editorial Team for assistance.