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Determining copyright status can be a difficult process. The resources on this page are intended as general guides. You can contact a librarian with any general questions you have about copyright, and we strongly recommend that you contact John P. Scherer II, Associate General Counsel at UNCW (schererj@uncw.edu), with more specific questions or concerns.

Not all of the resources on this page 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.


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..."

Copyright law gives all creators near perfect control over their creation, with a set of rights that only they may exercise. These include the right to make copies, to prepare derivative works, to publicly distribute, display and perform the work, and (in the case of digital sound recordings) to perform the works over a digital network. (source)

For an overview of copyright and issues related to education and fair use, we recommend reviewing:

There are four ways that you can use copyrighted material:

  1. Public Domain. This primarily includes so-called "orphan works" and works that are old enough that their copyright has expired. 
  2. Fair Use.  Depending on the nature of the copyrighted item and of your use, you may be able to use it. 
  3. Permission. You can contact the copyright holder for permission, or sometimes the holder will proactively label their work with permission to reuse with or without restrictions (for example:creative common licenses). 
  4. TEACH Act. If you are teaching an online class, you may have special copyright allowances in regards to digitizing items.


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Sites for Finding Public Domain & Permission-Given Resources

Please note that not all materials listed on the sites below are in the public domain or have the permission of the creator for you to use. It is the responsibility of you, the individual using the material, to determine copyright status.


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.

Other Ideas


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.

Other Ideas

  • Sheet music collections
  • Traditional songs or folk music created, or in existence before, 1923


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.

Other Ideas

  • Special libraries
  • The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has a list of finding aids for locating materials in Presidential libraries and other special collections


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.

Other Ideas

  • Books, newspapers, and magazines published earlier than 1923, or between the years 1923-1963 if copyright was not renewed (use the "advanced search" in Randall Library's Catalog to find materials published before a certain date)
  • Again, special libraries and archives will have many materials
  • While not public domain materials, there are several publishers and web sites featuring authors whose works are available for free download. See the Internet Archive's Text Archive for more information.

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Tammy Ivins

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