Let’s establish that anything that is public domain is free, meaning that if you want it, you just take it. You don’t have to pay for it and you don’t have to tell anybody you took it. It’s there for everybody to have. That’s why it’s called public domain.This is one of the reasons why you’ll go into a book store and see a “collection” of works by some author from long ago. Most likely, all his works are now in the public domain and somebody was smart enough to realize that people might be interested in reading some of these long lost treasures or obscure works. Sometimes unknown writers and their works of literature become quite popular with just the right spin. The key is finding them.In order to do that, you first have to know what constitutes a public domain work as far as the time period. This is where things get a little fuzzy and hard to keep track of.Let’s start with the easy one first. Any work that was published before 1923 is considered public domain. There are no restrictions, ifs, ands, or buts on this issue. If the work was done before 1923, it is now officially up for grabs. But there is more to the public domain law than just this one thing.Okay, this is where it gets a little fuzzy. Any work that was created after March 1, 1989, even if these works are not published, are copyrighted for a total of 70 years after the creator of that work dies. So something created on March 2, 1989 would be copyrighted until March 2, 2059. Well, I’ll be 102 by then so I won’t have to worry too much. Now, if a work was created after March 1, 1989 and is a work for hire or corporate authorship, it is copyrighted either for 120 years after creation or for 95 years after it has been published, whichever comes first.So anything that was created after March 1, 1989, is automatically covered, regardless of whether or not the author applied for a copyright.Now, we are left with the works that are created between 1923 and March 1, 1989. This is where it really gets sticky and confusing, if you’re not already confused.All works created between 1923 and March 1, 1989 are copyrighted ONLY if all the proper paperwork has been filed to actually copyright the work. In other words, there is no automatic copyright with these works. Therefore, finding public domain works that were created during this time period, takes a lot of digging since you have to research what copyrights were applied for and granted for these works.
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