Copyright Resources

Public Domain Dates

The table below explains the dates on which works fall into the public domain in the United States. While under US law a work is in the public domain irrevocably once it enters, that is emphatically not true for most of the world. In US practice, all works enter the public domain on 1 January of the year following copyright expiration (for example, a work published after 1 January 1923, properly marked and renewed, is scheduled to enter the public domain on 01 January 2019). It has been revised to reflect the result in Eldred v. Ashcroft, ___ U.S. ___ (Jan. 15, 2003).

This table is only a beginning point, and is not a substitute for legal counsel. Eventually, it will include references to other major copyright systems, such as the European Union.

Keep in mind that expiration of copyright does not mean that one is free to make unrestricted use of a property. Trademark, moral rights, and other legal theories may restrict use of material that is even hundreds of years old, and plagiarism is always forbidden.

Last Updated: 19 January 2003


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Charlie Petit

Created/registered Conditions Copyright Status Termination Status
New works (created since 01 Mar 1989)
  Author is known individual(s)1 Author's life + 702 ( 302(a)) Publication + 35 years3 ( 203)
  Author is otherwise1 Shorter of (Creation + 120) and (Publication + 95)2 ( 302(c)) No termination right ( 203) 
Older works      
Before 01 Jan 1923  Published before 01 Jan 1923  In public domain2 ( 304) none
  Not published As per new work, but not before 31 Dec 2002 ( 303) n/a
  01 Jan 1978 < P < 31 Dec 2002 As per new work, but not before 31 Dec 2047 ( 303) P + 35 ( 203)
01 Jan 1923–31 Dec 1949  Not timely renewed4 In public domain2 none 
   Timely renewed4
P < 01 Jan 1942
P + 95 ( 304(b))  P + 75 ( 304(c),(d)) 
   Timely renewed4
P > 01 Jan 1942
P + 95 ( 304(b))  P + 56 ( 304(c)) 
01 Jan 1950–31 Dec 1977  Published with notice5 P + 28 + 67 ( 304(b))6 P + 56 ( 304(c)) 
   Published without notice5 In public domain2 none 
01 Jan 1977–28 Feb 1989  Published without notice5
Not later registered
In public domain2 none 
   Published without notice5
Later registered
Author is known individual(s)1
Author's life + 70 ( 302(a))  P + 35 ( 203) 
   Published without notice5
Later registered
Author is otherwise1
Shorter of (C + 120)  and (P + 95)
( 302(c))
No termination right ( 203) 

1. Treat natural persons whose date of death cannot be fixed as other authors. "Otherwise" means corporate authors, works falling within the work for hire provision of the statute, and anonymous and pseudonymous authors for whom the actual identity was not established through registration.

2. No works enter the public domain by expiration of copyright between 01 January 1998 and 31 December 2018.

3. Termination rights last for a period of five years beginning on the specified date. They are inalienable and held by persons specified in 203 or 304(c) of the Copyright Act (as applicable). Termination applies only to the work in question; derivative works that were properly authorized are not affected by exercise or nonexercise of termination rights.

4. For works initially published prior to 1 January 1978, copyright was for an initial term of 28 years from publication, followed by a renewal term of an additional 28 years (later extended to 67 years). Relatively few works actually were properly renewed; estimates range from 6% to 17%.

5. "Notice" refers to proper marking of the work, usually the following:
•  The copyright symbol ©, "(c)", "copr.", or the word "copyright";
•  The year of publication of the particular edition;
•  The name of the initial copyright holder of the particular edition; and
•  For effectiveness in Latin America, the phrase "All rights reserved."
For an example, look at the intellectual property notice at the foot of this page. Notice is not required on or after 1 Mar 1989. The absence of a notice may, under some circumstances, provide an "innocent infringer" defense—but it no longer forfeits the copyright itself.

6. Although the mechanics of renewal and length of renewal after the initial 28-year term provided in the 1909 Act were completely changed in the 1976 Act, works that were registered during this period still need to be renewed during the 28th year after registration or they fall into the public domain, just as earlier works that were not timely renewed. This will cease to be an issue on 01 January 2006, because all works in this will either have entered their renewal term or failed of renewal.

Intellectual Property Rights

© 2001 C.E. Petit, Esq. All rights reserved.
   This notice overrides any alleged copyright or license claimed by any person or entity absent a signed writing that complies with the requirements for transferring the entire copyright. This includes, but is not limited to, translation or other creation of derivative works, use in advertising or other publicity materials without prior written authorization, or any other non-private use that does not qualify as fair use under United States law. Commercial use, publicity or advertising use, or republication in any form will be treated as an infringement absent written authorization.
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