Copyright Compendium

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313.6 (D) Works in the Public Domain

313.6 (D) Works in the Public Domain


Works that are in the public domain in the United States cannot be registered with the

U.S. Copyright Office. A copyrighted work enters the public domain in the United States when “its full copyright term has expired.” Golan v. Holder, 565 U.S. 302, 307 (2012). Works that do not comply with certain statutory formalities may also be in the public domain, such as U.S. works published without a copyright notice on or before March 1, 1989, or U.S. works published or registered on or before December 31, 1963 that were not renewed in a timely manner. Likewise, works that are not copyrightable are in the public domain, such as works that have not been fixed in a tangible medium of expression or works that merely contain a de minimis amount of authorship.


A derivative work, compilation, or collective work that contains public domain material may be registered, provided that the new work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship. The copyright in such works covers the compilation authorship or the new material that the author contributed to the derivative work, the compilation, or the collective work, but it “is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the [public domain] material.” 17 U.S.C. § 103 (B).

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