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Creative Commons: Public Domain Works

Learn more about Creative Commons, and how to use it to borrow or license content.

What is the Public Domain?

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

There are three common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired,
  • the U.S. federal government created the work, or
  • the creator of the work dedicated it to the public domain.

Public Domain Explained by the U.S. Copyright Office

The public domain covers works not protected by copyright. Learn which works are in the public domain and how works become a part of it.

What About Public Domain Works?

Questions about Creative Commons works and licenses often leads to questions about works in the public domain. Public domain works are creative works to which copyright no longer applies or never applied. We often also find public domain materials in the same repositories and websites where we commonly find Creative Commons-licensed works. Visit the "Rights-Free and Rights-Implied Media & Content" guide linked below to learn about many of the repositories where you can find public domain creative works.

Dedicating Your Work to the Public Domain

Creative Commons Public Domain LicenseYou might consider releasing your work into the public domain, which allows anyone to use that work, any way they want, without requiring attribution to you.

To help facilitate that process, and to make it easier for content users to easily identify that work as in the public domain, Creative Commons offers a public domain mark (CC0 1.0) that can be applied to any work you want to dedicated to the public domain. They also offer a public domain dedication tool web form wizard that will generate the necessary mark image and language if you want to embed this into a website, blog, or LibGuide.

The Creative Commons public domain mark with associated terms.