WHAT DOES PUBLIC DOMAIN MEAN, EXACTLY?
“The total absence of copyright protection”
“ ‘Public Domain’ (PD, for short) means that particular works–music, literature, films, TV shows, photographs, works of art, cartoons–are no longer protected by the copyright law. In other words, they are no longer owned by anyone. You can change them–rewrite words or melodies, use Public Domain art as part of your designs–use them in any way you wish. No permission is required from anyone or any company. No fee needs to be paid.”
“The Public Domain is an intellectual property designation for the range of content that is not owned or controlled by anyone. These materials are ‘public property,’ and available for anyone to use freely for any purpose.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain
“The phrase ‘Public Domain’ is a copyright term referring to works that belong to the public.”
Note: Laws about Public Domain vary from country to country.
Here’s a list of things that are and are not in the Public Domain that we thought you would enjoy:
“I’m a Little Teapot”–not an old nursery rhyme. It was written and copyrighted in 1939.
American Gothic by Grant Wood. Very much in copyright and well-protected. You see some really silly things done with this painting. The copyright holders have a sense of humor. So it’s ubiquitous, it ends up on doormats and a lot of other places, but it’s not in the Public Domain.
“Happy Birthday”–The words are in copyright, the music is not. It used to be that the copyright holder said both words and music were protected by the copyright, but that’s no longer so. The copyright status of this song is why, in so many shows, the actors sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” at birthday celebrations. As of now (April 2015) a lawsuit seeking to establish that both words and music of “Happy Birthday” are in the Public Domain is making its way through the courts.
The world-famous theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is in the Public Domain. It is a tone poem known as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss. It was written in the time period from 1885-1896. Please note that only the music is in the Public Domain. Sound recordings of this work are not in the Public Domain and therefore have to be licensed.
Many of Robert Frost’s, Carl Sandburg’s, and T.S. Eliot’s most important poems are no longer covered by copyright in the United States.
L.Frank Baum’s beloved book The Wizard of Oz is PD. The film and anything in it that is an original creation of the filmmakers are protected by copyright. For instance, the ruby slippers are not in the original book, so they are protected by copyright. All the music in the film is in copyright. If you are thinking of using The Wizard of Oz, talk to us first.
Some Saturday Evening Post covers are PD, including some of the most famous works of art Norman Rockwell ever created.