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Copyright: Public Domain

Copyright guidelines for faculty, staff, and students at CSS.

Public Domain

DecorativeThe public domain is the collection of expressive works for which no one owns the copyright. Works enter the public domain:

  • If the copyright of a work has expired,
  • If the work did not have copyright to begin with (i.e., federal governmental works),
  • If the creator has given up his or her exclusive rights either upon completion of their work or anytime during the copyright duration,
  • If the copyright owner failed to renew the copyright properly.


Works in the public domain are free for anyone to use, distribute, copy, perform, build upon, change, or anything else and for any purpose that they wish. No copyright permission is required. However, it is important to understand that no one person can own an item in the public domain. It is owned by the public.

With that said, there could be other issues that arise including trademark, privacy, patent, and other issues. It is important to consider these other possible issues. Also, it important to understand that any new derivative work, other creative work based on an item in the public domain, or a collection of public domain items may be protected by copyright. For example, translating a public domain book into another language may be covered by copyright. Only the original item in the public domain will be free from any copyrights.

Finally, it is important to know that the public domain is different from country to country. What might be in the public domain in one country may not be in the public domain of another country. 

Example of Items in the Public Domain

There are lots of items that are not protected by US Copyright Laws. Examples include the following:

  • Works where the copyright has expired - films, music, images, books, etc.
  • Federal government works - however, works created by contractors may be covered by copyright
  • Facts or ideas
  • Systems, processes, procedures, or methods of operations - however, they may be protected by other laws like patent or trademark laws
  • Concepts, discoveries, or principles
  • Names, domain names, or titles
  • Words, lettering, numbers, symbols, punctuation
  • Slogans or short phrases - however, they may be protected by other laws like patent or trademark laws

Locating Resources in the Public Domain

Locating items in the public domain is not always easy. We recommend the following websites:



Audio & Music

Copyright Questions?

The College of St. Scholastica Library provides assistance and guidance with copyright questions for CSS faculty, staff, and students. Please email Julie Rustad with your questions or visit our website for more information.

Learn More about the Public Domain

Tools for the Public Domain

Legal Advice Disclaimer

The information presented in this guide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice or counsel. Faculty, staff, students, and others associated with the college should consult an attorney for advice concerning their individual copyright situations and needs.