A public domain work is something is no longer covered by copyright law or it never was covered. While credit still needs to be given to the author of the work, it can be used without gaining permission from the author or copyright holder.
Use this chart to determine if a work is in the public domain.
Campus Copyright Policy
The copyright law of the United States [Title 17, United States Code] governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.
Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that use may be liable for copyright infringement.
A library or archive reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgement, fullfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.
"Fair use" allows one to use a portion of another's work (Sec. 107 of the US Copyright Act). Consider these 4 factors when determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use
- Whether such use is of commercial nature (less likely to be fair use) or is for nonprofit educational purposes (more likely to be fair use)
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- Facts and data are more likely to be fair use than creative works.
- Government publications are public domain.
- The amount and substantiality of the portion use.
- Even a small portion of a work may not be fair use if it is the heart of the work.
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
- Use resulting in economic loss to the copyright holder is less likely to be "fair use."
If your use of a material is not "fair," you can still use it as long as you get permission from the copyright holder. Further discussion of fair use can be found here.