What is Public Domain?
What it teaches:
Using an example of a song written three generations ago, this video shows why it makes sense that public domain exists and what it means when a song, photo, artwork, document or other creative work is in the public domain. This video teaches:
- The basics of copyright law and how it gives creators control
- Why copyrights expire over time
- How public domain works are available for use without payment or permission
- Why creators and organizations contribute to the public domain
- How to find public domain resources
Imagine for a moment, you’ve written a song and people love it. Because you wrote it, you own it and can use it to earn a living and control if and how it is used by others.
This is the basic idea of copyright law.
These laws make it possible for creative people to earn a living from their creations. But copyright has limits.
Let’s fast-forward to three generations from now. By this time in future, the song lives on and could be useful to others, but you’re not around to control ownership or make money from it.
The question becomes: If someone wants to use your song after so much time, should permission still be required?
Or, does it make more sense for the copyright to expire after a period of time and for the song to be open for use by everyone without permission or payment? This is one way to think about works that are not copyrighted and in the public domain.
In most countries, creative works can only be owned for a period of time. Once that time passes, the story, diagram, song, photograph or any other creative work becomes part of the public domain and is available for use without payment or permission.
This means a huge amount of older creative work is available for use. Want to use a song in your commercial? If the song is in the public domain you can use it for free and without permission!
Want to use an old image to create art? Public domain photos are available without a fee or permission. But the public domain contains much more than old articles, songs and art.
The owner of any creative work can choose to make it part of the public domain at any time.
Many creators contribute their work to the public domain to encourage use by others and contribute to a publicly shared resource.
Further, some organizations don’t use copyright for their publications, making them part of the public domain. For example, most works created by the U.S. government like reports and statistics are not copyrighted as a matter of policy and are free to use in the U.S.
The real beauty of the public domain is that it is a truly public resource that is not controlled by any government, organization or person.
You can find huge collections of public domain materials with a simple online search.
And unlike copyright, which requires permission from the creator, public domain works can modified, reproduced or distributed without payment or permission.
If you’re ready to get creative, works in the public domain may be a perfect place to start.
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