Copyrights and Public Domain

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If you have ever tried to create something like a website, book, or video, then you most likely ran into two terms: copyrights, and public domain. These two terms are very important whenever you create something new. However, not everyone knows what these terms mean, or how they might affect you.

  • Copyright: A copyright is a form of intellectual property. This means that the creator of something typically has the only rights to it and no one else can reproduce or use any aspect of the copyrighted material without the creator’s consent. A copyright typically lasts for the duration of the creator’s life, plus 50 to 100 years depending on various factors such as country of origin.
  • Public Domain: Public domain is anything that is not protected by a copyright. This can mean that a piece of work was never copyrighted, was created before copyrights existed, or has lost its copyright protection. Works that are in the public domain can be used freely by anyone.

As you can see, from a creator’s standpoint, a copyright is incredibly important and valuable. It ensures that the creator remains in control of his or her creation, and that no one else can claim it as their own.

However, from the public side of things, copyrights can feel like they are in the way. This can be especially true for fans of different media who feel inspired to make something based on someone else’s work. One such instance of this would be fan fiction.

For those who do not know, fan fiction is a story created off of a famous piece of work. This new bit of work typically involves one or more of the original work’s characters and possibly the settings of the original work as well. A famous example of this would be E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as a piece of fan fiction of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. These works are typically heavily derived from the original work, and can thereby be classified as copyright infringement. If a piece of work is copyrighted, the original creator can take legal action against anyone who has created something derived from the original work.
Ultimately, copyrights are meant to protect creators and their creations. They ensure that a creation continues to be used how the creator sees fit.
Public domain is all about the people. Anything within the public domain can be considered free use, which means anyone can make something from it.

Some works that are within the public domain include:

  • Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Ulysses

The Wizard of Oz also falls into this category, but it is unique in that only the book is considered to be in the public domain. The movie itself is still under copyright protection and is owned by MGM Studios. It is one of the few pieces of work out there, where the original book is in the public domain, while the movie is still protected by copyright.


So, if you want create something based off of something else, and then make money off of it, make sure the original work is actually within the public domain. If it is not, than the owner of the copyright can take legal actions against you, which would mean a lot of trouble for you.