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A to Z Writing: Public Domain Is Fair Game

With plagiarism and copyright infringement running rampant in cyberspace (and perhaps in print), how can writers tell what works are free to copy? What artwork and content is considered reproducible with no strings attached?

Public domain materials are available across the board. Writers may quote, cite or even copy these works without permission or royalties, although the original author must be credited. Also, it’s advisable to cite sources whenever possible.

What constitutes public domain?

Intellectual, musical, and artistic properties may become public domain for a number of reasons.

Copyrights may have expired, or forfeited by their holders. Generally, copyrighted material transfers into the public domain 70 years after the author’s death, 95 years after publication, or 120 years after the work’s creation (whichever comes first). Of course, copyrights may be extended, in certain cases, by authors or their heirs.

Works created by U.S. Government employees on official duty are considered public domain. For example, photographs shot by U.S. Armed Forces members on military installations or during active duty fit the bill.

What are some examples of public domain works?

Popular public domain materials include:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • “Auld Lang Syne”
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • The Constitution of the United States
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  • Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  • The Holy Bible (older translations)
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
  • “The Pledge of Allegiance”
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Scientific principles and mathematical formulae

Kindle and Nook users frequently find public domain works available as free downloads.

Web writers seeking illustrations or photography to accompany their work often search public domain photo sites for appropriate images, which may be simply used without licensing or repercussions.

ClipArt ETC – Public Domain
2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge logo
Fair Use

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  1. Check it out. When in doubt - don't. It's pretty simple. Thanks for the post. Stopping by as part of the 2012 A-Z Blogging Challenge.

  2. My husband made a music video for his band using public domain animation from Betty Boop cartoons.

    Stopping by for A to Z!


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