The Public Domain

The Public Domain

Current copyright law dictates that works enter the public domain seventy years after the death of their creators. This means that there is a vast repository of works that are accessible free of restrictions, with new works becoming available every year.

Project Gutenberg is currently the largest on-line collection of free eBooks that are in the public domain in the United States. (Copyright laws differ from country to country, so not all works are available everywhere.) The project relies on volunteers to help digitize and proofread books, and is strictly not for profit. In addition to books, Project Gutenberg has recently started a Sheet Music Project and is building a collection of public domain music scores.

The Library of Congress American Memory collections are another great place to find free open access works. The literature collections includes 19th century books and periodicals, while the music collections include both sound recordings and sheet music.

In addition, Google Books provides some free eBooks, as well as scans of old issues of magazines like LIFE and Jet

Creative Commons is a good place to go if you’re looking for free images or music (for example, to use on a website or in a film). Creative Commons licensing options allow creators either to dedicate their works to the public domain, or to keep certain copyright privileges while allowing others to use their works in specific ways.

For more information on finding and using public domain materials, check out the book "The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art, and More," by Stephen Fishman.