There are two uses for the term public domain. The one we won't be discussing is public land that can be purchased from the government for a small amount of money and if you homestead it for a few years it becomes yours. The term "public domain" that we will discuss here refers to the collective of works not covered by intellectual property rights in any way whatsoever, typically because those rights either expired or never existed, but sometimes because the creator forfeits said rights. Examples of such works include the English language, the formulae of Newtonian physics, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and the patents on powered flight. This also applies to many old movies, cartoons, novels, poems, comics, and various other works of art, science, and general knowledge. In general, Public Domain works make for a great resource for those who need entertainment but don't have a lot of cash. Since Public Domain works don't have the protection of copyright or other IP rights, anyone can use them as the basis for new creative works without fear of running into lawsuits or other legal issues. Shakespeare's works, for example, have received numerous film adaptations with their own unique spin on The Bard's tales. People can also use those works, in part or in whole, within a new creative work (someone can quote as much Shakespeare as they want within a film). In general, works enter the public domain by one of several means:
- The work existed before copyright existed (generally anything before the 1800s)
- The work got published after the creation of copyright, but existed long enough for its original copyright to have expired (anything published before 1923 in the United States)
- The work's copyright lapsed due to age (with the current legal standard for the US holding that age at seventy years after the death of the creator, or 120 years after creation/95 years after publication [whichever is less] for works where a corporate entity is the creator).
- The copyright holder waives their copyright.
- The work got published at any time between 1923 and 1977, but the copyright owner failed to renew their copyright. (After 1977, renewal became optional.)
- In the United States at least, if the work was originally created by the US Government, it is automatically in the Public Domain at creation. (this is why the Private SNAFU cartoons and the "Why We Fight" films of Frank Capra are in the public domain).
Pages Covering Public Domain Works:
- Public Domain Animation: Cartoon short subjects that exist in the public domain.
- Public Domain Feature Films: This covers public domain feature length movies such as The Birth of a Nation and Night of the Living Dead (1968).
- Public Domain Stories: This includes folklore, short stories, poems and novels that exist in the public domain.
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