Hege Library & Learning Technologies

Copyright, Fair Use, & Intellectual Property

How do I find items in the Public Domain?

Guide to finding interesting public domain works 

  • From the Public Domain Review at the Open Knowledge Foundation, this guide has links to sources for Public Domain works of many types, such as images, texts, videos, and more.

Smithsonian Institution Public Domain Images 

  • Images from the collection of the Smithsonian Institution that are in the Public Domain.

New York Times Public Domain Images 

  • Images from the New York Times that are in the Public Domain.

Project Gutenberg 

  • Books in the Public Domain from Project Gutenberg.

Prelinger Archives 

  • Thousands of short films in the domains of education, advertising, and industry.

Internet Moving Image Archive 

  • Provides near-unrestricted access to digitized collections of moving images. The largest collection is comprised of over 1,200 ephemeral (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films made from 1927 through the present. Broadcast quality copies can be purchased through Getty Images.


Creative Commons & Public Domain

Instructors, students, and staff may also seek images, video, and other content which are available through Creative Commons license or in the public domain and freely available for use.

Creative Commons

"Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools." 

Learn more about Creative Commons licenses here. Do you have work to share on the Web? It's easy to select the license that's right for you by using the Creative Commons Choose a License tool.

Look for Creative Commons licenses for  

  • no cost images
  • no need to ask permission
  • enormous selection
  • variety of search interfaces


Public Domain

The term “public domain” encompasses those materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. No individual owns these works; rather, they are owned by the public. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission and without citing the original author, but no one can ever own it. 

There are 4 common ways that an item will arrive in the public domain:

1. The copyright has expired

  • Copyright has expired for all works made in the United States prior to 1923. If the publication date is before January 1, 1923, then the work is in the Public Domain. 
  • Because of legislation passed in 1998, copyright expiration was extended. Works published in 1923 will expire in the year 2019; in 2020, works published in 1924 will expire. 
  • For works published after 1977, copyright will not expire until 70 years after the last surviving author dies. 

2. The copyright owner failed to follow rules for renewal

  • Works published in the United States before 1964 fall into the public domain if copyright was not renewed with the Copyright Office during the 28th year after publication. No renewal meant a loss of copyright. 
  • For works published between 1923 and 1964, research with the Copyright Office is needed to know whether the item is in the Public Domain. For a helpful guide to researching Copyright Office records, please see this guide from Stanford University Libraries

3. The copyright owner deliberately places the item in the Public Domain

  • Sometimes, a copyright owner will choose to release their work to the Public Domain. They can do this via a CC-0 license or by placing a statement such as "This work is dedicated to the Public Domain" on their work.
  • It is important to verify that the person dedicating the work to the Public Domain is, in fact, the owner of the copyright for the work.  

4. Copyright law does not protect this type of work

  • Copyright law does not protect the titles of books or movies, nor does it protect short phrases such as, “Beam me up.”
  • Copyright protection also doesn’t cover facts, ideas, or theories, which has important ramifications for the collection of data. While the facts of data are not subject to copyright, their organization may be. 

More information is available from  "Welcome to the Public Domain" from the Stanford University Libraries and Public Domain Slider from the American Library Association.