Intellectual Property IV: Public Domain

31 12 2008

What do Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 (also known as the “Moonlight Sonata”), Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope have in common? In case the title wasn’t a giant clue, these are all works in the public domain.

Property in the public domain belong to, well, the public. Anyone can use content in the public domain and could create new protected materials from them. Copyrights, patents, and trademarks, once the protection ends, enter the public domain. In addition, works by the United States government (and several other governments) automatically enter the public domain.

Works created based on public domain content can have their own shiny new intellectual property protections (same as if the work were made from scratch). For example, modern productions of Hamlet are protected under copyright laws despite the play being in the public domain.

And, seeing as the protections are already covered, here’s a list of places to get public domain content:

(Also see Wikipedia’s list of public domain resources

Intellectual Property Series:

  1. Copyright
  2. Trademark
  3. Patent
  4. Public domain



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