This site applies only to the use of Public Domain works in the United States. Other countries have different laws about the Public Domain.
PD OR NOT PD?
Here’s a list of things that are, and are not, in the Public Domain which we thought you would enjoy:
I’m a Little Teapot — not an old nursery rhyme. It was written and copyrighted in 1939.
American Gothic by Grant Wood. Very much in copyright and well-protected. You see some really silly things done with this painting. The copyright holders have a sense of humor. So it’s ubiquitous, it ends up on doormats and a lot of other places, but it’s not in the Public Domain.
Happy Birthday is now officially in the Public Domain — all of it, both the words and music. The song has a lot of history. Warner bought the song from a company called Summy Birchard. At the time of the sale both Summy and Warner insisted that both the words and the music were protected by copyright. A few years after the initial purchase, Warner changed its position, saying that the music was in the Public Domain but not the words. The fact that Warner charged quite a lot for the use of Happy Birthday caused people to avoid using the song in films and TV shows — instead they had people sing For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow (which is in the Public Domain), thereby avoiding paying Warner a fee. Someone finally brought a lawsuit against Warner to prove that the words were in the Public Domain. They won. On 12/9/2015 the case was settled. Both the words and the music to Happy Birthday are now officially in the Public Domain.
One of the world’s most iconic characters, Sherlock Holmes, and his stories and their characters are in the Public Domain, with the exception of the stories/books published after January1, 1923. One of the reasons you keep seeing so many productions based on Sherlock Homes is the fact that it is Public Domain and it doesn’t cost anything to use the characters and stories published before 1923.
The world-famous theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is in the Public Domain. It is a tone poem known as Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. It was written in the time period from 1885-1896. Please note that only the music is in the Public Domain. Sound recordings of this work are not in the Public Domain and therefore have to be licensed.
Many of Robert Frost’s, Carl Sandburg’s and T.S. Eliot’s most important poems are no longer covered by copyright in the United States.
Baum’s beloved book, The Wizard of Oz, is PD. The film and anything in it that is an original creation of the filmmakers are protected by copyright. For instance, the ruby slippers are not in the original book, so they are protected by copyright. All of the music in the film is in copyright. If you are thinking of using The Wizard of Oz, talk to us first.
Some Saturday Evening Post covers are PD, including some of the most famous works of art Norman Rockwell ever created.
A Pretty Girl is Like A Melody (PD music)