|Feel free to create a derivative|
of the Mona Lisa like
L.H.O.O.Q. if you haven't
done so already!
- Leonardo daVinci's Mona Lisa
- Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel The Secret Garden
- Newton's Principia
- Source material for Relativity Media's current film Mirror Mirror
- Mahayana sutras from the Tibetan Kanjur
- The complete works of William Shakespeare
- Sheet music to Handel's Water Music
Now, perhaps you're a bit like me, and although you've heard of the public domain, you've never put much thought into what it is or why it exists. The truth is that any writer can benefit from drawing from this vast resource of stories that have delighted audiences and readers for years.
So, what is the public domain? According to the University of California, here is how they describe it:
❝The public domain is generally defined as consisting of works that are either ineligible for copyright protection or with expired copyrights. No permission whatsoever is needed to copy or use public domain works. Public domain works and information represent some of the most critical information that faculty members and students rely upon. Public domain works can serve as the foundation for new creative works and can be quoted extensively. They can also be copied and distributed to classes or digitized and placed on course Web pages without permission or paying royalties.❞Basically, what it boils down to, is that these are works anyone can use without someone taking you to court and crying foul for copyright infringement. Sounds like a sweet deal, right? But just be careful you're following proper protocol before you go out there and start writing a sequel based off another author's work. There are a few more rules you'll need to know.
The UCCopyright site goes on to say the following:
|Frances Hodgson Burnett's|
1911 edition cover.
- If the work was published in the United States prior to 1923, it is in the public domain. This is why we tend to see so many "sequels" to some of the great 19th century works like Jane Austen's and Jules Verne's.
- For works published between 1923 and March 1, 1989, it depends on whether certain statutory formalities were observed, such as providing a notice of copyright on the work or renewing the copyright per statutory deadlines. It goes on to explain three examples of public notices with or without registration and how or if those copyrights were renewed in the proper fashion.
- After March 1, 1989, all works (published and unpublished) are protected for 70 years from the date the author dies. For works of corporate authorship (works made for hire), the copyright term is the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation. It's kind of nice to know your work is protected up to 70 years after your death, isn't it? A recent example of a work entering the public domain is Frances Hodgson Burnett's well-loved novel The Secret Garden, which became public domain in 1987.
|P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley|
One of many "sequels" to Austen's work.
With all the controversy lately surrounding copyrighted material on the internet, the truth of the matter is that many photos and materials are in the public domain. For example, Wikimedia Commons has over 12 million uploaded files that are specifically in the public domain. It is the largest free "images-only" repository on the web. So every time you find a photo on a Wikipedia page, then that image is in the public domain. Of course, if something seems questionable, then do the research required to know if you're using free content or not.
If you've never taken a look at some of the works included in the public domain, but have always had a hankering for rewriting a story your way, then I encourage you to search out what interests you. Disney would never have had such classics as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast or there wouldn't be a slew of Shakespeare's in the park every summer across America if not for the power of the public domain.
Have you ever worked with anything in the public domain? If there was a classic literary tale you could rewrite what would it be and how would you change it?