The Public Domain

The public domain is comprised of all the works that are free of copyright (or other IP) restrictions. Anyone can copy, share, adapt, perform, modify, and otherwise use public domain materials without asking or paying a rightsholder. Works in the public domain belong to the public, and provide a crucial well of shared knowledge, inspiration, and raw material for new works of all kinds.

In a way the public domain was reborn in 2019, as published works shed their copyrights for the first time since copyright terms were last extended, in 1998. All works first published in the US in 1923 rose into the public domain on January 1, 2019, and each year for the next half-century or so the public domain will be replenished with another year’s worth of published material—1924 in 2020, 1925 in 2021, etc. (Things will shift again around 2073, for reasons too complicated to explain here!)

At any rate, here you’ll find information about how to find collections of public domain works at UVA and beyond, how to tell if a work is in the public domain, how we celebrated the rebirth of the public domain starting in 2019, and how the Library can help you work with public domain materials.