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Determining copyright status can be a difficult process. The resources on this page are intended as general guides. Please contact a librarian with any general questions you have about copyright (see the Ask a Librarian link above); however, we strongly recommend that you contact Rob Hoon, Associate General Counsel at UNCW (hoonr@), with more specific questions or concerns.
Not all of the resources below are truly public domain resources. Many are offered under voluntary licenses or agreements, which change or limit the rights held by the copyright owner, or they are identified as royalty-free materials.
For an overview of copyright and issues related to education and fair use, Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office is a good resource.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, states: "The Congress shall have power...To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries..."
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the public domain in two ways:
- Land belonging to the public; common land.
- The state or condition of belonging or being generally available to all, esp. through not being subject to copyright.
Creative Commons has a Public Domain Dedication, the last paragraph of which states: "...once placed in the public domain, the Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived."
A good resource for general information on the public domain is Stanford University Library's Copyright & Fair Use Page, Welcome to the Public Domain.
Several timelines relating to when a work falls into the public domain are available:
- Peter B. Hirtle, Cornell Copyright Information Center, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
- Lolly Gasaway, UNC, When U.S. Works Pass Into the Public Domain
- Mary Minow, LibraryLaw.com, Library Digitization Projects and the Public Domain
- Bromberg & Sunstein LLP, Flowchart for Determining When U.S. Copyrights in Fixed Works Expire
This table presents The Growth Rate of the Public Domain, by Peter Jaszi, Professor of Law at American University, Washington College of Law.
Licenses either limit or extend a copyright owner's exclusive rights. Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization, has created a spectrum of licenses intended to offer licenses that allow you to choose to "change your copyright terms from 'All Rights Reserved' to 'Some Rights Reserved.'" This does not mean that Creative Commons-licensed (CC-licensed) materials are in the public domain. To view the licenses, click on a link below:
Creative Commons also provides links to various content directories and search engines which can be helpful in finding CC-licensed works. Links to these directories are found below.
|PUBLIC DOMAIN* RESOURCES
images || audio || video || texts
|IMAGES||Creative Commons Image Content Directory
Lists links to image directories collecting, in part or exclusively, CC-licensed images.
Wikipedia: Public Domain Image Resources
A variety of image directories, including many links to government agencies offering images in the public domain.
Wikipedia: Free Image Resources
Links to many stock-photo sites and related sites, not necessarily featuring images in the public domain, but many are royalty-free.
|AUDIO||Creative Commons Audio Content Directory
A collection of links to sites which index, in part or exclusively, CC-licensed audio material.
Audio books featuring books from the public domain, free to download and read by volunteers.
Recordings of music in the public domain, performed by individuals and college or community orchestras.
The Mutopia Project
Classical and contemporary sheet music, some in the public domain, some with CC-licenses. See also Project Gutenberg's The Sheet Music Project.
|VIDEO||Creative Commons Video Content Directory
A directory of CC-licensed moving images.
The Internet Archive
Digitized films here may be downloaded or accessed for free. Many of the digitized films in the Prelinger Archive, accessible through the Internet Artchive, are available for nearly unrestricted non-profit use; the Prelinger Archive contains many ephemeral films from 1927 and later.
|TEXTS||Creative Commons Text Content Directory
A list of texts and text collections with CC-licensed media.
Wikipedia: Public Domain Resources
Text-based public domain resources listed in the popular wiki.
*Not all materials listed on these sites are in the public domain. It is the responsibility of the individual using the material to determine copyright status.
Image searching and sharing sites
- Photo Sharing Sites
- Search Engines
- Map Tools
- Google Earth's geographic web, Panoramio
- Add paths and place markers, save image
- Search for similar images using retrievr. Search by drawing or uploading images
- Print Screen keyboard function - Captures screenshot to clipboard
- Microsoft Publisher - allows user to "save picture as"
- Microsoft Paint - Included with Windows, basic image modification, add text
- Microsoft Office Picture Manager - included with Office, resize, brighten, crop, etc.
- GIMP - GNU Image Manipulation Program, free, powerful, but complicated to learn
- Clip art - Microsoft downloads
- Crews, K. (2006). Copyright law for librarians and educators: Creative strategies and practical solutions. Chicago: American Library Association.
UNCW Reference KF2995 .C74 2005
- Fishman, S. (2001). The copyright handbook (5th ed.). Berkeley: NOLO.
UNCW Reference KF2995 .F53 1996 or in e-book format
- Fishman, S. (2001). The public domain: How to find copyright-free writings, music, art & more. Berkeley: NOLO.
UNCW General KF3022.Z9 F57 2001 or in e-book format
- Stim, R. (2004). Getting permission: How to license & clear coyprighted materials online & off (2nd ed.). Berkeley: NOLO.
UNCW Reference KF3002.Z9 S75 2004 or in e-book format