Definitions of Public Domain, Fair Use, and Copyleft


Public Domain, Free Use and Copyleft Media

It feels good to get free stuff. In fact that’s probably why many of us get on the Web in the first place. But behind the usual blogs and Web sites lies untold fortunes of free-use content, all available for you to use legally and with a clean conscience. All the resources you need are there, whether to explore literature spanning the human experience or to find thousands of photos to spice up any project. There are even sites to help you understand all the copyright snags you might encounter along the way.

Definitions of Public Domain, Fair Use, and Copyleft

There are hordes of that ubiquitous stuff called "content" on the Web for the taking. Photographs, literature, film, and music-everything you need to self-publish is online. But with such unprecedented free access to all that material, the risk of copyright infringement is more real than ever before. Luckily, in response to our insatiable desire for it, organizations, artists, and individuals are responding with what is called copyleft, or free-use content, designed to allow all the rest of us to use what they've created. For those few of us left without a law degree, many Web sites explain copyright, copyleft, and everything in between.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Before you explore copyleft, take a minute to learn about copyright. Depending on your usage needs, copyright laws could be a non-issue due to "fair-use" laws.
  • Beware. No known copyleft or free-use license allows you to claim another's work as your own.
  • New, more liberal types of licenses are revolutionizing the self-publishing world, but free-use is not always a carte blanche. As you research further, keep these definitions in mind:
    • Public domain: Any work in the public domain is completely free to use. You can download it, change it, use it in your own work, or even publish it as-is and sell it. It is everybody's property. Do with it as you please.
    • Copyleft/open-content/free-use/Creative Commons/some rights reserved: these terms cover a broad spectrum of license types. While they generally are available to use in some manner, this can range from personal use such as free downloading, to any kind of use as long as you don't sell it outright.
    • Copyright/all rights reserved: this is the traditional copyright standard. The creator has kept ownership of all usage rights. Except for fair-use, you must receive permission from the creator for any type of usage.
    • Fair-use: this is the legally allowable usage for copyrighted material. It generally includes academic, citation, and quotation purposes, among others.

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