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What Can I Use Without Permission?

Work in the public domain can be adapted or used without the creator’s permission. So what is in the public domain?

Government documents. Works created by the federal government (such as judicial opinions, the 9/11 Commission Report, or environmental impact statements) cannot be protected by copyright. However, statutes can regulate the sale of government works, and can prohibit certain uses of an official seal.

The voluntary public domain. Works whose authors have decided to put their work in the public domain are not protected by copyright (for example, Creative Commons).

Ancient works. Works for which copyright protection has expired are no longer protected.  For works published or registered in the United States, the public domain includes:

  1. all works published before 1923,
  2. works published between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice,
  3. works published before 1989 but not registered within 5 years, and
  4. works published between 1923 and 1963 but for which copyright was not renewed.
Works not in the public domain, however, cannot always be used without permission. Some uses are considered fair use, and allowable, while others are infringement.


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