Determining whether or not a work is in the public domain by using copyright term duration (by date) can be complicated. Please also see the "Definitions" tab for other kinds of works that do not qualify for copyright protection. The charts you see to the right provide basic information on the length of copyright term for different kinds of works.
Please keep in mind that this chart only deals with works published or created in the United States. This chart covers the basic areas of determining how long a work is covered by copyright. For more detailed information, as well as copyright durations of foreign works, please consult Peter Hirtle's chart, "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States", or Michael Brewer's interactive web tool: Digital Copryight Slider. You can also check the U.S. Copyright Office's Catalog of Copyright Entries to see when a work may have been registered (Digitized through University of Pennsylvania); however, this kind of searching can also become complex.
|Type of work||Published||Date of creation or publication||Qualifications||Duration of copyright||Duration of copyright / works made for hire|
|Works that are literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual in nature as well as motion pictures||Yes||Before 1926||None||Public domain||Public domain|
|1926-1963||Published with notice and not renewed||Public domain||Public domain|
|1926-1963||Published with notice and renewed||95 years after date of publication||95 years after date of publication|
|1926-1977||Published without notice||Public domain||Public domain|
|1964-1977||Published with notice||95 years after date of publication||95 years after date of publication|
|1978-present||Work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression"||Author's life plus 70 years||Lesser of: publication date plus 95 years or creation date plus 120 years|
|No||Before 1978||You know the authors' name(s) and you know whether or not they are still living.||The greater duration of: the author's life plus 70 years or December 31, 2002.||The greater duration of: the author's life plus 70 years, or December 31, 2002.|
|1978-present||You know the authors' name(s) and you know whether or not they are still living.||Author's life plus 70 years.||Author's life plus 70 years.|
|Any||Anonymous, pseudonymous, death date of author is unknown.||Add 120 years to the date of the work's creation.||Add 120 years to the date of the work's creation.|
Copyright durations for sound recordings (All information in this chart is paraphrased from Cornell University Library's "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States" guide).
|Type of work||Published? (yes/no)||Date of publication (or creation for unpublished works)||Qualifications||Duration of copyright||Duration of copyright for anonymous, pseudonymous, and works made for hire|
|Sound recording||Yes||Before 1923||None||Covered by state common law until Jan. 1, 2022|
|1923-1946||None||100 years from publication date|
|1947-1956||None||110 years from publication date|
|1957-Feb. 14, 1972||None||Covered by state common law until Feb. 15, 2067|
|Feb. 14, 1972-1978||Published without notice||Public domain|
|Feb. 14, 1972-1978||Published with notice||95 years from publication date|
|1978- Mar. 1, 1989||Published without notice and without registration||Public domain|
|1978- Mar. 1, 1989||Published with notice||Life of author + 70 years||Either 95 years from publication date or 120 years from creation date (whichever is shortest)|
|After Mar. 1, 1989||None||Life of author + 70 years||Either 95 years from publication date or 120 years from creation date (whichever is shortest)|
|No||Before Feb. 15, 1972||None||Covered by state common law until Feb. 15, 2067||Covered by state common law until Feb. 15, 2067|
|After Feb. 15, 1972||None||Life of author + 70 years||Either 95 years from publication date or 120 years from creation date (whichever is shortest)|
Besek, J. (2005). Copyright Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Pre-1972 Commercial Sound Recordings. (CLIR Publication no. 135). Retrieved from https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/pub135.pdf
Besek, J. (2009). Copyright and Related Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Disemmination of Unpublished Pre-1972 Sound Recordings by Libraries and Archives. (CLIR Publication no. 144). Retrieved from https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/pub144.pdf
Copyrights, 17 U.S.C. Chapter 3. (Cornell University 2009). Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sup_01_17_10_3.html
Cornell University Libraries. (2020). Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States. Retrieved from http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm
Fishman, Stephen. (2010). The Public Domain: How to Find and Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art and More. Berkeley, CA: Nolo.
U.S. Copyright Office. (2003). Duration of Copyright: Provisions of the Law Dealing with the Length of Copyright Protection. (United States Copyright Office Circular no. 15a). Retrieved from http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf
U.S. Copyright Office. (2010). How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work. (United States Copyright Office Circular no. 22). Retrieved from http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ22.pdf
Disclaimer: This tutorial on using public domain materials, Creative Commons licensed materials, and copyright law is provided for informational purposes only! I am not a lawyer and cannot provide legal advice. None of what you read in this tutorial should be construed as legal advice. Should you require legal advice, please contact an attorney.