Do you know what it means for a piece of original work to be part of the public domain? Whether you’re talking about a literary or dramatic work, a piece of music or art, or even architecture or computer software, intellectual property that is not protected by copyright, trademark or patent is owned by the public rather than its individual creator, and therefore is part of the public domain.

When something is in the public domain it can be used by anybody, for anything, without them having to ask permission to use it or pay for its use. To easily understand the difference between a work that is in the public domain and one that isn’t, just think of one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world: the Mona Lisa. Because it was created so long ago and its creator has been dead for so many years, anybody is free to reproduce its image without fear of copyright infringement. By contrast, a work that is not in the public domain is protected.

If you have created an original piece of work, it is automatically protected, but the best way to ensure that you can easily pursue a lawsuit for copyright infringement is to file for a copyright. However, in the United States, most work created after 1977 is protected from falling into the public domain for a full 70 years after its creator has died. If the work being protected is a product of corporate work, work for hire or anonymously created then it is protected for 95 years from the time that it is first published or 120 years from when it was first created, whichever comes first.

In general, works published after 1977 will not fall into the public domain until 70 years after the death of the author, or, for corporate works, anonymous works or works for hire, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

To provide yourself and your work with the greatest protection against falling into the public domain, you need to make your ownership clear through copyright. For assistance in navigating the process, contact Bochetto & Lentz today to set up a time to meet and learn more about how we can help.