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A new year, new opportunities in public domain

Feb 25, 2021 | Copyright Law

The first day of a new year marks a new beginning and new opportunities. And it is not just a time to make resolutions; it is also a time when copyrighted materials from decades ago enter the public domain.

Suppose you are the owner of a copyright or are interested in using certain copyright-protected materials. In that case, you should understand what it means when copyrighted material is in the public domain.

What is the public domain?

When intellectual property does not have the protection of copyright, trademark or patent, it is in the public domain. This means that people can use the creative work however they want, and they do not need to get permission, as long as the material does not have other protections in place, like a trademark.

Keeping creative work out of the public domain can be crucial for any creator or business owner who wants to retain control over the material.

However, ownership can come to an end. One way this happens is when copyright protections expire. Depending on when a person created a particular work, this could be anywhere from 70 to 120 years after creation. At this time, the protected work enters the public domain on the first day of the year, referred to as Public Domain Day.

Other ways to enter the public domain

However, expiring on the first of the year is not the only way copyrights can enter the public domain. Other ways this happens can include:

  • An owner failing to renew a copyright properly
  • The owner voluntarily gives material to the public domain through dedication
  • A copyright cannot protect the material

Thus, there are a number of ways copyrighted material can become available for others to use.

Protecting protected works

Keep in mind that it is not always easy to tell if a poem, novel or software program is in the public domain or protected by a copyright. Further, there are other ways to protect creative works and limit how and if other parties can use them.

As such, it can be wise to discuss issues regarding intellectual property ownership and public domain with someone familiar with intellectual property laws.

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