Fair Use and Public Domain

Fair Use

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

Section 107 of the Copyright Act calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating whether the use of a work could be considered fair us. These considerations are:

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-by-case basis, and other factors may also be considered in determining fair use. The Fair Use Index is an online database created by the U.S. Copyright Office that tracks and summarizes major fair use judicial decisions.

To help determine whether your use of a copyrighted work could fall under fair use, we recommend completing and retaining the fair use checklist below from Columbia University Libraries.

Fair Use Checklist

The UO Libraries provides information on making fair use judgements within instructional contexts.

UO Libraries Fair Use FAQs About Fair Use from College Art Association

Public Domain

Public domain works are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Public domain status allows you unrestricted access.

Public domain works can be accessed through a number of different websites, archives, and databases. The following sites will guide you to a wealth of public domain books, images, illustrations, audio, and films where the copyright term has expired or the creator has not renewed the license.

There are three main categories of public domain works:

  1. Works that automatically enter the public domain upon creation, because they are not copyrightable. Examples include titles, names, short phrases, slogans, ideas and facts, processes and systems, and work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government as part of their official duties.
  2. Works that have been assigned to the public domain by the creators.
  3. Works that have entered the public domain, because the copyright has expired. Congress has passed a series of laws extending the term of copyright. Currently, the default term is life of the author plus 70 years. That means that most of the copyrighted works created from the late 1970s to the present may not become public domain during your lifetime.

    In general, works published after 1977 will not fall into the public domain until 70 years after the death of author, or, for corporate works, anonymous works, or works for hire, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.
    1. All works published in the U.S. before 1923 are public domain.
    2. All works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1963 without copyright renewal are now public domain.
    3. All works published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977 are now public domain.
    4. All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989 and without subsequent registration within five years are now public domain.

Designating Your Work as Public Domain

One way to dedicate a work to the public domain in the U.S. is to use the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication. Interpretation of dedication may vary in countries outside the U.S.

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