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The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More [Paperback]

Stephen Fishman J.D.
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)

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The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More 4.6 out of 5 stars (88)
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Book Description

May 4, 2010 1413312055 978-1413312058 5
Need content? It's free for the taking!

Even though you've always been told otherwise, writers and artists can copy other people's work and get away with it. How? By dipping into the public domain, where everything is free for the taking.

The Public Domain is the only book that helps you find and identify what creative works are protected by copyright -- and what's not. The book provides specific information about:

  • writings
  • music
  • art
  • photography
  • architecture
  • maps
  • choreography
  • movies and video
  • software
  • databases
  • collections

    The 5th edition is crisper, fresher and completely updated with new case law, and includes information on the emergence of the "copyright commons." The book also provides hundreds of resources to help you find public-domain works.

  • Editorial Reviews


    "How do you tell the difference between what's copyrighted and what isn't? A good starting point is Stephen Fishman's The Public Domain." (Associated Press 2008-03-05)

    "A superb offering showing how to avoid lawsuits by getting one's hands on thousands of public domain songs, movies and manuscripts that can be used on websites or anywhere else free of charge." James Coates, Chicago Tribune (James Coates, Chicago Tribune 2008-02-02)

    "The constitutional guarantee of a public domain was one of the Framers' most important gifts to our cultural tradition. This extraordinary book makes real the value of that gift in the 21st Century." (Laurence Lessig, author,Code & Other Laws of Cyberspace 2008-03-02)

    About the Author

    Stephen Fishman is the author of many Nolo books, most recently Tax Deductions for Professionals. Other titles include Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Every Landlord's Tax Deduction Guide and Home Business Tax Deductions - plus many other legal and business books. He received his law degree from the University of Southern California. After time in government and private practice, he became a full-time legal writer.

    Product Details

    • Series: Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art& More
    • Paperback: 462 pages
    • Publisher: NOLO; 5 edition (May 4, 2010)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1413312055
    • ISBN-13: 978-1413312058
    • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 7.2 x 9.5 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
    • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,039,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

    More About the Author

    Stephen Fishman has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for entrepreneurs, independent contractors, freelancers and other self-employed people, as well as books on copyright law and the public domain. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles, and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. He lives in Alameda, California with his wife.

    His website is at

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
    By benboy
    Highly recommended! I'm an artist and musician and I've been waiting for a book like this for years. It's like a road map that lets you figure out what stuff you can use without permission (and without having to ask a lawyer if its okay). And there is a lot of free art out there ... not just old stuff but U.S. government art, etc. It's a very sharp, well-written book with lots of interesting trivia, too.
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    18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars An incredibly wonderful and useful book!!!! March 22, 2002
    As a writer of musical theatre, I am constantly brainstorming for new ideas and thinking about what works may be in the public domain to use. Finally there is a book that removes so much of the guess work. Stephen Fishman has written a book that is very "user friendly" and incredibly helpful. He gives all the important facts, and describes how to do your own research on copyright status (to avoid those heavy fees the goverment office charges!). It is also full of interesting sidebars, mini-charts of famous public domain works, tips, advice....everything you could ask for. I find myself just picking it up to flip through for fun....and now I practically I feel like an expert on the subject! In summary, this book is a must have!
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    22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Another great NOLO publication! August 9, 2002
    By A Customer
    NOLO writes legal books for the rest of us. I've used other NOLO books and gave this one a shot. I found this book to be a wonderful guide to the whole subject of public domain, from where to find it to how to use it effectively. It was also a great introduction to the history of public domain and its significance in the legal landscape of intellectual property. it's a great resourse for anyone that needs creative content for free!
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    17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, practical advice July 21, 2004
    Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
    I made the mistake of buying the first edition of this book (published in 2001), but found it to be an excellent guide to the legal issues involved with public domain textual material. I have already published one book which relied heavily on public domain materials, and am working on a second, and when I bought this book I had several specific questions that I was trying to answer. This book answered all of them, as well as some that I hadn't thought of! I'll probably end up buying the second edition, just to see what has changed in the last few years.
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    8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Mastering the Public Domain October 27, 2010
    Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
    The Public Domain is not to be confused with books of public domain images published by Dover. As delightful as those books of art are, they don't provide what Nolo's book does: Knowledge. You'll get explanations, definitions, and guidance on where and how to find and use royalty-free art, music, writing, databases, and other works legally.

    Most of us just assume that if something is in the public domain we are free to use it in any way, but that's not true. If you work in any arts from music to writing to art and web design, this book is a must-have. It has the potential to keep you out of twenty kinds of trouble if you follow its tips and heed its lessons.

    Here's an example of how the book works for me: I'm currently writing a non-fiction book and am doing my own photography. The book is about historically haunted places in southern California. There are times when, in addition to my own photos, I'd like to include a historical shot or a map or drawing without jumping through hoops trying to get permissions. Here's another: The other day, I needed to know if I could use a photo I'd taken of an old photo hanging in an historic adobe. This book made it a snap to find out. It's also allowing me to choose items I need with a minimum of hassle for myself and my publisher.

    The book is put together thoughtfully and logically, making research that could be a huge pain into something stress-free and manageable. This thorough and easy-to-understand legal book has become a must-have for me.
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    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
    Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
    A copyright is the "right to copy." Only the owner of a copyright (to a book, article, song, film, etc.) can copy that book, etc., or give others (such as a publisher) permission to copy it.

    However, the U.S. Constitution says that copyrights must EXPIRE after a LIMITED TIME (Article 1, Section 8), whereupon the work becomes PUBLIC DOMAIN. Then you, the public, are free to download that song, or write new Sherlock Holmes stories, or perform Shakespeare or Mozart.

    Copyright's "limited time" has been repeatedly extended -- often due to big media lobbying. The 1790 Copyright Act set copyright protection at 14 years, renewable for another 14 years. By 1909, copyrights lasted 28 years, renewable for another 28. In 1976 copyright was set for "the life of the author plus 50 years," or 75 years for corporate owners. In 1998 copyright was extended to "life of the author plus 70 years," or 95 years for corporate owners.

    Steve Forbes, of Forbes magazine, said of the 1998 extension: "It is fitting and proper that your creations be protected by law for your lifetime and a reasonable period afterward. But there is no justification for what Congress has been doing: transforming a limited monopoly into an unlimited one. Creativity and culture are enhanced by having works ultimately become public domain, particularly with the advent of the Internet."

    Law professor, and Constitutional expert, Lawrence Lessig joined others in a lawsuit against the 1998 copyright windfall giveaway to big media. But in 2003, the Supreme Court rubber-stamped President Clinton and the Republican Congress's sweetheart gift to big media -- extending by decades the term before which a work enters the public domain.
    Read more ›
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    Most Recent Customer Reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most useful books I have ever encountered
    This fat and informative book is a goldmine for anyone interested in public domain works, weather writings, music, art, films or just about anything else. Read more
    Published 5 days ago by Kurt A. Johnson
    3.0 out of 5 stars Utilizing Copyright-Free Material
    Haven't had a chance to use this book to it's full potential as of yet but I have visited a few site that are listed nothing tangible. Read more
    Published 11 months ago by Laval V.
    5.0 out of 5 stars Answers the Question: Can I Use That?
    It never ceases to amaze me the number of so-called "professionals" who regularly rip off others' work, be it sound, image, video, or text. Read more
    Published 15 months ago by CG
    5.0 out of 5 stars A must have for any creative type.
    I can't put this book down. A must have for any creative person looking to understand public domain and create derivative works.
    Published 15 months ago by greg ferns
    5.0 out of 5 stars How to Be Smart in Using Free Materials
    This is a great "how to" book on negotiating the tricky slopes of using any kind of materials with or without copyrights. Read more
    Published 17 months ago by Kath in CO
    5.0 out of 5 stars Great Reference Guide!
    Fantastic guide, covers everything you need to know about public domain. I have learned so much from this book. Read more
    Published 19 months ago by Vicki Becker
    3.0 out of 5 stars 1I found it helpful
    I found the book helpful. I am writing a book and I needed help on how to find copyright owners.
    Published on February 4, 2012 by Freddie
    5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensible and useful resource!
    Like the "For Dummies" books, this resource helps untangle various copyright laws in the first section, with overviews of some notable legal precedents, exceptions, and general... Read more
    Published on October 3, 2010 by Hedera Femme
    4.0 out of 5 stars Great primer on IPR issues
    The title of this book is a bit misleading, it's not so much a guide to finding free content as an explanation of the many issues involved in each type of intellectual property. Read more
    Published on July 22, 2010 by Kid Kyoto
    5.0 out of 5 stars Covers a lot of ground
    I run a weekly pub quiz and am always wondering what photos and sound clips I can legally use. This book answered those questions and a lot more. Read more
    Published on July 22, 2010 by Cowboy Bill
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