Public access and public domain are very different things

| Jan 9, 2020 | Copyright Law

People sometimes confuse public access with public domain. One of the biggest copyright myths is that these two things are actually the same. They are very different.

For example, artwork that is available on the internet is open to public access. That does not mean someone can use it without direct permission or a license to do so. Even so, people do it illegally all the time.

Public domain actually means that the copyright has expired. This takes a lot longer than many people realize. For instance, the general rule is that a copyright runs for the life of the creator and then for another 70 years after they pass away. At that point, it enters the public domain.

You sometimes see this with classic novels. A common example is the novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” The classic Jane Austen novel had entered the public domain, meaning others could use the work. As a result, another author “expanded” the book by adding a zombie theme to it.

This was a legal use of the work and even gives Austen an author credit. However, it could not be done with a novel that was simply available for public access but was not yet in the public domain. Without the original author’s permission, that would be an illegal use of their work for financial gain.

It’s important not to fall prey to any myths about copyright laws and related issues. If you think someone violated your rights and illegally used your work, it’s also important to know what steps you can take.