What Is the Public Domain?

What Is the Public Domain?

When you see a number of works like books or movies uploaded to various websites, you may not know how this is possible. How can all of these works be free to the public when they were created by another person? These materials are likely in the public domain. You’ll want to keep reading to learn what the public domain is, how a work qualifies, and what it means for your copyrighted content. You’ll also discover how a Bergen County, NJ intellectual property attorney can help you with any issues you may have with your copyrighted material.

What Does It Mean if Something Is in the Public Domain?

When a work is in the public domain, it means it is not protected by intellectual property laws. This can happen for a number of reasons, but most commonly occurs when someone’s copyright expires.

Works in the public domain are no longer owned by an author or creator, but instead belong to the general public. Because it is not subject to copyright laws, anyone can use these works for free without obtaining explicit permission or compensating the work’s creator. Similarly, no one can face a civil suit for using the material in the public space, as no one can claim the material as their own since it belongs to the public.

It is important to note that while an original work may be in the public domain, any retellings or subsequent works centered around the central material do fall under traditional copyright laws. For example, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is in the public domain, but Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation Romeo + Juliet is protected by copyright. This means you cannot use the film without explicit permission.

How Do Works Enter This Space?

Works enter the public domain after their rights are forfeited, waived, or expired. Most commonly, the copyright expired. Generally, copyrighted works enter the public space seventy years after the creator of the work has passed away.

However, some creators will waive their right to copyright protections in favor of making their work free to the public. This is most commonly seen in music and photography, with royalty-free options.

What Can I Do if My Intellectual Property Is Used Without My Permission?

If you believe your work is being used without permission because someone believes it to be in the public domain or for whatever reason, understanding your legal options to protect your work is essential.

You’ll want to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options and draft a cease and desist letter informing the thief that they have – inadvertently or intentionally – used copyrighted material and to halt use immediately.

However, if they persist, the Law Offices of Richard E. Novak can help. Our dedicated legal team understands the complexities of copyright law, and we will do everything possible to help protect the material you’ve worked hard to create. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.