Copyright Compendium

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621.6 Public Domain Material

621.6 Public Domain Material


If the applicant intends to register a work that contains an appreciable amount of material that is in the public domain in the United States, that material should be excluded from the claim using the procedure described in Section 621.8 (B).


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). In addition, works published in the United States without a copyright notice on or before March 1, 1989 may be in the public domain, and works registered or published in the United States on or before December 31, 1963 may be in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed in a timely manner.


In most cases, material that is in the public domain has been published before, and as such, should also be excluded from the claim as previously published material.


The applicant should determine whether the work contains any public domain material on the date that the application is submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. The date of creation and the date of publication for the work that the applicant intends to register are irrelevant to this determination. In other words, public domain material should be disclaimed, regardless of whether that material was created before or simultaneously with the work that the applicant intends to register. Likewise, it should be disclaimed regardless of whether that material entered the public domain before or after the date of creation or the date of publication for the work that the applicant intends to register.


This rule applies to material that is in the public domain in the United States. Material that is in the public domain in another country (but protected by copyright in the United States) need not be disclaimed (unless the material has been previously published, previously registered, or is owned by a third party).


Examples:


• Henry Glass submits an online application to register a play titled The Misogynist. The play is based on a novel that was published in 1920. Henry excludes the public domain material from the claim by stating “based on a novel published in 1920” in the Material Excluded field, and limits the claim to the new dramatic authorship that appears in the play by stating “script” in the New Material Included field. The registration specialist will register the claim.


• Nancy Dawson submits an application to register a songbook containing songs written by her father, and claims that she obtained the copyright in this material “by inheritance.” The songbook also contains songs by various nineteenth-century composers. Nancy excludes the public domain material from the claim by stating “songs by nineteenth-century composers” in space 6 (A) and limits the claim to the songs written by her father by stating “new music and lyrics” in space 6 (B). The registration specialist will register the claim.