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Public Domain vs. Copyright — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on October 3, 2023
Public Domain refers to creative works that are not protected by intellectual property laws and are freely available to everyone. Copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution.
Public Domain vs. Copyright — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Public Domain and Copyright

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Key Differences

Public Domain is a term used to describe works that are not subject to intellectual property rights. These works are freely available for use by anyone for any purpose. Copyright, on the other hand, refers to the legal protections granted to the creators of original works, which often include the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display their creations.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023
Public Domain works may include those for which copyright has expired, or those that were never copyrighted in the first place. People can freely modify, distribute, and perform these works without seeking permission. In contrast, copyrighted works require explicit permission from the rights holder for various kinds of usage, including reproduction and public performance.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023
The entry of a work into the Public Domain often depends on various factors, such as the death of the author plus a certain number of years, typically 70. Copyright usually begins the moment an original work is created and fixed in a tangible medium, and it lasts for a certain period depending on various factors, including the type of work and jurisdiction.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023
Public Domain is crucial for the free dissemination of knowledge, allowing educational institutions, artists, and the general public to use works without restriction. Copyright, meanwhile, incentivizes creators by giving them exclusive control over their works, thereby encouraging more creative output. Both Public Domain and Copyright are essential components of intellectual property law, each serving different but complementary roles.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Comparison Chart

Legal Protection

None
Granted by law
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023
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Usage Permission

Not required
Required from rights holder
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Time Duration

Infinite
Limited
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Alteration of Work

Allowed
Requires permission
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Ownership

Owned by the public
Owned by creator or rights holder
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Oct 03, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Public Domain

Works free from intellectual property rights
Shakespeare's plays are in the Public Domain.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Legal right to control original works
The author holds the Copyright to the book.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Public Domain

Works for which copyright has expired
This classical music composition has entered the Public Domain.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Exclusive rights to reproduce a work
The artist copyrighted her painting to prevent unauthorized reproductions.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Public Domain

Items free for public use and distribution
Public Domain software can be freely shared and modified.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Control over distribution and public performance
Copyright law prevents you from streaming the movie without permission.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Public Domain

Content that anyone can use
This image is in the Public Domain, so you can use it freely.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Intellectual property protection
The film is under Copyright, so you can't distribute it.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Public Domain

Material not copyrighted
These government documents are usually in the Public Domain.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

A form of ownership for creators
The song's Copyright belongs to the musician.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Of or relating to a copyright
Copyright law.
A copyright agreement.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Protected by copyright
Permission to publish copyright material.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

To secure a copyright for.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

(uncountable) The right by law to be the entity which determines who may publish, copy and distribute a piece of writing, music, picture or other work of authorship.
Copyright is a separate legal area from trademarks.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

(countable) Such an exclusive right as it pertains to one or more specific works.
The artist lost the copyrights to her songs when she signed the contract.
The images are still copyright of the original artist.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

A violation of copyright law; copyright infringement.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

To obtain or secure a copyright for some literary or other artistic work.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

The right of an author or his assignee, under statute, to print and publish his literary or artistic work, exclusively of all other persons. This right may be had in maps, charts, engravings, plays, and musical compositions, as well as in books.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

To secure a copyright on.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

A document granting exclusive right to publish and sell literary or musical or artistic work
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Copyright

Secure a copyright on a written work;
Did you copyright your manuscript?
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Common Curiosities

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal right granting exclusive use and distribution to the creator.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Do you need permission to use Copyrighted works?

Yes, you must obtain permission to use copyrighted works.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

What is Public Domain?

Public Domain refers to works that are not protected by intellectual property laws.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Can anyone use Public Domain works?

Yes, works in the Public Domain are free for public use.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

How long do Public Domain works last?

Works in the Public Domain are free to use indefinitely.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Who owns works in the Public Domain?

Public Domain works are owned by the public.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Do Copyrighted works have legal protection?

Yes, Copyright provides legal protections for the creator.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

How do works enter the Public Domain?

Works enter the Public Domain when copyright expires or if they were never copyrighted.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

How long does Copyright last?

Copyright duration varies, but it is limited.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Can you modify Public Domain works?

Yes, works in the Public Domain can be altered and used freely.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Can you modify Copyrighted works?

No, modification of copyrighted works requires permission.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Who owns Copyrighted works?

Copyrighted works are owned by the creator or rights holder.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Do Public Domain works have legal protection?

No, Public Domain works are not legally protected.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

What is the purpose of Public Domain and Copyright?

Public Domain encourages free dissemination of knowledge, while Copyright encourages creative output by granting exclusivity.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

How are works copyrighted?

Works are copyrighted when they are created and fixed in a tangible medium.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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