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Welcome to the Cornell University Copyright Information Center.

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Frequently Asked Questions








What is the public domain?

Public domain is the legal name given to a work that is not protected by any intellectual property rules such as copyright, patent or trademark, trade secrets, or contract. In other words, anyone may copy or use the work freely. In the copyright arena, the term is most commonly applied when copyright protection no longer pertains to a work, as in "then the work enters the public domain." See also Video Tutorial - Copyright and the Public Domain.

How do I find out if a work is in the public domain?

This site contains one of the best charts for figuring out when or whether a work is available in the public domain. Please see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, by Peter Hirtle.

Is my use a "fair use"?

The Fair Use Checklist is a tool available from this site designed to help you determine whether a particular use is covered under "Fair Use."

We're an educational institution, so aren't all uses fair use?

No! A fair use analysis would be the basic rubric, adding "transformative use" considerations to the existing four factors that exist now in the law: nature of the medium, intended use of the work, amount, market impact. Because the intended use is by an educational institution, that works in our favor - but it is only one factor in a more complicated analysis.

We're an educational institution so no one would sue us, would they?

Content owners frequently target higher education for potential copyright infringement litigation, so we must be more rather than less vigilant in treating copyright in such a way as to maximize the use of information for our missions while remaining within legal boundaries.