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What Is Public Domain?

Surprisingly, some of my most liked posts are public domain poems. I’ll admit, I post them to keep myself from infringing copyright, but I also believe it is important to read from an historical standpoint. And I try to pick ones that have bearing on current events. Poetry is truly timeless.

So what exactly is the public domain? According to Copyright.laws.com, “they are works that are considered to be in the public domain are not protected by copyright. To be in the public domain means that the works can be used, copied, and distributed without any particular authorization from the copyright holder. This situation occurs when a copyright term expires or the rights themselves have been forfeited.”

In United States copyright law – each country and jurisdiction has its own – it is not a cut and dry date for all conditions of how and when a work is produced. Anonymous works can even be copyrighted. Cornell University hosts a downloadable PDF to explain conditions and dates. (Make sure to figure correct dates, based on the date of the PDF.)

Public Domain Day starts on January 1 of every year for all countries/jurisdictions depending on their own laws, and determines what goes into the public domain. Oregon has its own special case regarding unpublished works.

At the beginning of every year, you can surf the internet and usually find a list of works that enter the public domain. For 2021, The Mary Sue entertains us with its list, along with the basics of when a work enters the public domain.

Creative Commons explains two different ways artists can choose to release their works into the public.

Copyright law protects an artist’s ability to receive recognition and financial reward from work that is created. But at some time in the future, they are released into the public for everyone’s benefit.

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