A Few Answers about Public Domain for Creatives

Are you an author, poet, or artist who has wondered what will happen to your work after pass on? You can protect your work now, but most creatives do not make those types of legal arrangements when they are alive for a multitude of reasons. Those who do not end up having their work enter the public domain. We attempt to explain it below using resources found online.

What is Public Domain? [Stanford University] ˅

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. 

What are the reasons why works enter the public domain?

 

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.

 

There are multiple sites online that deal with copyright protection and public domain. To share how important the topic is, here is a list of works that enter the public domain as of January 1, 2020 and January, 1, 2021.

 

Margaret Mitchell  United States 8 November 1900 16 August 1949 Novelist Gone with the Wind
Oswald Garrison Villard  United States 13 March 1872 1 October 1949 Journalist, civil rights activist John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After
Dwight D. Eisenhower  United States 14 October 1890 28 March 1969 Military Officer, statesman Crusade in Europe
Jack Kerouac  United States 12 March 1922 21 October 1969 Writer On the Road
Edgar Rice Burroughs  United States 1 September 1875 19 March 1950 Author of adventure and science fiction Tarzan and Barsoom

As you can see, it doesn’t matter if a work is considered a classic or not to ultimately belong to the public. Check with an intellectual property attorney to see how your estate can continue to own your work beyond your death. 

 

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