Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

COVID-19 Update: The library building will be closed November 26-January 11. Materials and service are still available. Click here for more information.

Copyright & Fair Use

Learn the basics of copyright law, especially as it is applied to videos, images, and published documents in a university setting..

Public Domain - Now includes US works published in 1924

The term "public domain" refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws, such as copyright, patents or trademark laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist.

There are four ways works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired;
  • the copyright owner failed to follow the copyright renewal rules;
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain (known as 'dedication'); and
  • copyright does not protect this kind of work.

Length of Copyright

Copyright protection currently lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.* If there is more than one author, copyright protection lasts for the life of the last author's death plus 70 years.

All works published in the United States before 1925 are in the public domain as of Jan. 1, 2020. This is the first release of materials since the 1998 Sonny Bono Act.

Some works published during or after 1925 may also be in the public domain, but will require further analysis.

*There are many exceptions based on initial year a work was copyrighted. Unpublished or anonymous works may be covered even longer.

Tools