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Copyright: Public Domain
& Creative Commons

Public Domain

Materials in the public domain are not protected by copyright and may be freely used in their entirety.

Most federal government publications are in the public domain. Works created prior to 1924 are in the public domain. Works created between 1924 and 1989 may be in the public domain, depending on whether they were registered (when this was still required) and whether their original copyright term was renewed when it expired.  

To see when copyright term expires, check:

To see if copyright was renewed or if a specific work passed into the public domain, check:

  • The Copyright Office database of copyright registrations back to 1978.
    (For registrations prior to 1978, the Copyright Office can do a manual search for a fee.)
  • Copyright Renewal Database (Stanford University) This database covers copyright "renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963. Note that the database includes ONLY US Class A (book) renewals."
  • Information about the Catalog of Copyright Entries (University of Pennsylvania) A chronological list of links to online records of copyright registrations and renewals, 1906 to the present.
  • Selected Copyright Renewal Registrations, 1950-1977 (Project Gutenberg)

A work can also be an "orphan work," meaning that it may still be under copyright, yet no rightsholder can be found.

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons provides a free licensing mechanism that allows creators to proactively grant permission for defined uses of their materials. Search the Commons to find "content you can share, use, and remix", in accordance with the licenses provided:


Nothing on this guide is to be construed as legal advice. These pages are intended to provide information and guidance in the application of copyright law and to expand on the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations.

Thanks to Miller Nichols Library of UMKC for permission to reuse material from their Copyright guide.