Sociology Index

Public Domain

Public Domain covers all works not covered by intellectual property rights. Public Domain includes intellectual property rights that have expired and Intellectual Property Rights that have been forfeited. Publicly available to the public and unavailable to private ownership, public domain is as important to innovation and culture as material protected by intellectual property rights. Material in the public domain is not protected by copyright law, even when incorporated into a copyrighted work. Works of the governments are excluded from copyright law and are considered to be in the public domain in their respective countries. The term public domain is not normally applied to situations where the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as "under license" or "with permission".

Fair Use, Copyleft All Wrongs Reserved

Public Domain is as Important to Innovation and Culture as Intellectual Property Rights. IP Rights vary by country and jurisdiction, therefore, a work may be subject to rights in one country and be in the public domain in another. Some works are not covered by copyright, and are therefore in the public domain, examples among them are, the formulae of Newtonian physics, cooking recipes, and all computer software created prior to 1974.

According to James Boyle, the works of William Shakespeare and Beethoven, and most early silent films, are in the public domain either by virtue of their having been created before copyright existed, or by their copyright term having expired.

The term public domain may also be interchangeably used with other undefined terms such as the "public sphere" or "commons", including concepts such as "commons of the mind", the "intellectual commons" and the "information commons". - Ronan, Deazley (2006). Rethinking copyright: history, theory, language. Edward Elgar Publishing.

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
James Boyle, Yale University Press, 2008. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation. Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain, the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it.