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Public Domain

What is Public Domain?

The Public Domain encompasses:

  • Works published in the U.S. prior to 1925;
  • Works whose copyright has expired or were not renewed;
  • Works for which the copyright owner has intentionally and explicitly "dedicated" it to the public domain;
  • Works created by U.S. Government employees during the course of their employment;
  • Works which do not qualify for copyright protections (such as ideas, common knowledge, data points etc.).

Public domain is different than "publicly accessible" or "free online." Read more about the Public Domain here.

Government Publications

Most content found on .gov websites by the US Federal Government is free of any copyright restrictions and in the public domain.  However, look closely at .gov content--sometimes the materials have been contracted out or developed in partnership with a company or organization, and in these cases, a traditional all rights reserved copyright may be present.


  • A great place to start a search is
  • Try to search a specific agency's website.  A-Z List of Federal Agencies. Many times these materials are not retrieved with simple Google searches.  

Here are some examples of US Federal Databases:

  • The Homeland Security Digital Library is a collection of documents related to homeland security policy, strategy, and organizational management. Topics include maritime, unmanned aerial systems, terrorism, epidemics and many more. 


  • SciTech Connect is a collection of science, technology, and engineering research information from the U.S. Department of Energy.


CC0 vs. Creative Commons "Public Domain" mark

CC0 - Creative Commons zero - donated to the public domain CC0: "No rights reserved"

CC PD. Creative Commons Public Domain mark. Identified as being in the Public Domain. CC PD: "No known copyright"

State Copyright Guide

Copyright at Harvard Library - Check copyright status of government documents from each state


Some of the content on this page came from the LibGuides "Open Education Resources" by Anita Walz (Virginia Tech Libraries) and  "Open Educational Resources" by Carrie Gits (Austin Community College).

SUNY Old Westbury Library, Old Westbury, NY 11658
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