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Open Image Collections & Image Use Guide

This guide is to assist you in better understanding the various license agreements available when accessing images on the internet. Here you will find information on licencing, how to cite images for your papers and presentations, as well as an ever-growi

Public Domain

What is the Public Domain?

The public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived. The term of copyright on a work in Canada is 70 years after the death of the creator of the work. After the point copyright expires and the work is said to be "in the public domain." However, the term of copyright protection can vary based on the type of work and when it was first published.

Why does it matter if a work is in the public domain? When copyright expires or is waived for a work it becomes freely usable by everyone. You can use the material without copyright restrictions.

It is important to note that "The Public Domain" is not a specific place, it is not a website or the things we find online using search engines rather it the state of all materials for which the copyright has expired, been forfeited, expressly waived.and generally includes a large amount of very old materials. An easy way to use public domain materials is to use collections that are specifically marked as public domain but  If you need to determine if a work has entered the public domain you can do so using this flow chart from the University of Alberta.


Note* This image requires no attribution or citation because it is in the public domain

The Battle of Copyright. Ancient Greek warrior repersenting copyright stabs man repersenting public domain, with spear. Arrow repersenting free culture has been shot into the leg of the warrior repersenting copyright.

The term “public domain” refers to materials (not specifically images but inclusive of images) that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, or expressly waived. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. In Canada, an image will fall automatically into the public domain 70 years after the death of the image creator at the point copyright expires. To learn more about the Public domain visit the Creative Commons Website.

CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law. To learn more about CC0 visit the Creative Commons Website.