Public domain

The public domain consists of all the creative works to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired,[1] been forfeited,[2] expressly waived, or may be inapplicable.[3]

The works of William Shakespeare and Beethoven, and most early silent films, are in the public domain either by virtue of their having been created before copyright existed, or by their copyright term having expired.[1] Some works are not covered by copyright, and are therefore in the public domain—among them the formulae of Newtonian physics, cooking recipes,[4] and all computer software created prior to 1974.[5] Other works are actively dedicated by their authors to the public domain (see waiver); some examples include reference implementations of cryptographic algorithms,[6][7][8] the image-processing software ImageJ,[9] created by the National Institutes of Health, and the CIA's World Factbook.[10] The term public domain is not normally applied to situations where the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as "under license" or "with permission".

As rights vary by country and jurisdiction, a work may be subject to rights in one country and be in the public domain in another. Some rights depend on registrations on a country-by-country basis, and the absence of registration in a particular country, if required, gives rise to public-domain status for a work in that country. The term public domain may also be interchangeably used with other imprecise or undefined terms such as the "public sphere" or "commons", including concepts such as the "commons of the mind", the "intellectual commons", and the "information commons".[11]


Although the term "domain" did not come into use until the mid-18th century, the concept "can be traced back to the ancient Roman Law, as a preset system included in the property right system."[12] The Romans had a large proprietary rights system where they defined "many things that cannot be privately owned"[12] as res nullius, res communes, res publicae and res universitatis. The term res nullius was defined as things not yet appropriated.[13] The term res communes was defined as "things that could be commonly enjoyed by mankind, such as air, sunlight and ocean."[12] The term res publicae referred to things that were shared by all citizens, and the term res universitatis meant things that were owned by the municipalities of Rome.[12] When looking at it from a historical perspective, one could say the construction of the idea of "public domain" sprouted from the concepts of res communes, res publicae, and res universitatis in early Roman law.[12]

When the first early copyright law was first established in Britain with the Statute of Anne in 1710, public domain did not appear. However, similar concepts were developed by British and French jurists in the 18th century. Instead of "public domain", they used terms such as publici juris or propriété publique to describe works that were not covered by copyright law.[14]

The phrase "fall in the public domain" can be traced to mid-19th century France to describe the end of copyright term. The French poet Alfred de Vigny equated the expiration of copyright with a work falling "into the sink hole of public domain"[15] and if the public domain receives any attention from intellectual property lawyers it is still treated as little more than that which is left when intellectual property rights, such as copyright, patents, and trademarks, expire or are abandoned.[11] In this historical context Paul Torremans describes copyright as a, "little coral reef of private right jutting up from the ocean of the public domain."[16] Copyright law differs by country, and the American legal scholar Pamela Samuelson has described the public domain as being "different sizes at different times in different countries".[17]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Publieke domein
Alemannisch: Gemeinfreiheit
العربية: ملكية عامة
asturianu: Dominiu públicu
azərbaycanca: İctimai mülkiyyət
беларуская: Грамадскі набытак
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Грамадзкі набытак
Boarisch: Gmoafreiheit
čeština: Volné dílo
Ελληνικά: Κοινό κτήμα
Esperanto: Publika havaĵo
føroyskt: Almenn ogn
ગુજરાતી: પબ્લિક ડોમેન
Bahasa Indonesia: Domain publik
interlingua: Dominio public
Basa Jawa: Domain umum
Lëtzebuergesch: Domaine public
Limburgs: Publiek domein
magyar: Közkincs
македонски: Јавна сопственост
മലയാളം: പൊതുസഞ്ചയം
Bahasa Melayu: Domain awam
Nederlands: Publiek domein
Nedersaksies: Pebliek domein
norsk nynorsk: Offentleg eigedom
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Jamoat mulki
português: Domínio público
română: Domeniul public
Simple English: Public domain
slovenčina: Public domain
slovenščina: Javna last
српски / srpski: Јавно власништво
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Javno vlasništvo
svenska: Public domain
తెలుగు: Public domain
Türkçe: Kamu malı
удмурт: Мер ваньбур
Tiếng Việt: Phạm vi công cộng
Yorùbá: Ohun ìgboro
粵語: 公家領域
Zazaki: Malê şari
中文: 公有领域