What is meant by ‘the public domain’? How do I know if something is public domain?

“Public domain” refers to works in which copyright has expired or where the copyright owner has made a clear declaration that they will not assert copyright in the work.

For example, although the copyright in Shakespeare’s plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.) which are copyright protected because the authors have used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates a new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright had expired.

And don’t assume that everything you find on the internet is in the public domain just because it is publicly available. When using online materials, you should make sure your use falls within fair dealing, another exception in the Copyright Act, or is covered under the permissions given in the website’s ‘Terms of Use’, or ‘Legal Notices’ section.

All Copyright Basics

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