Technology Management

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Legal, Ethical and Social Considerations of Creative Commons and the Public Domain

[Table of contents]

Public Domain

The public domain comprises copyright-free works: anyone can use them in any way and for any purpose

First off, let’s describe what the public domain is.  Public domain items are available for anyone to use for any purpose. It should be noted that a number of items that are public domain are old – potentially very old – in order to be free of all copyrights.  However, not everything in public domain is simply there because their copyrights expired.  In some cases creators have chosen to put them there.

The public domain is generally defined (e.g. by the U.S. Copyright Office) as the sum of works that are not copyrighted, i.e.
that were not eligible for copyright in the first place, or
whose copyright has expired, or
that were released into the public domain by the copyright holder.

These public domain works can be freely used for derivative works without permission.

It should be noted, however, that whether or not something is copyright-free in some country depends on the laws of individual countries.

Some examples of public domain resources can be found at or