Public domain is a phrase that describes something that belongs to all people in general: the public. The opposite of "public domain" is copyrighted material, which is owned either by the creator of the work or his estate. The term public domain is only used to describe things such as photographs, drawings, written articles, books or plays, or similar things. As a general rule, all intellectual works, after enough time has gone by, will pass into the public domain. Actual examples include the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, the King James Bible, and the physics formulas created by Isaac Newton.
A work can enter the public domain in many ways.
- The copyright expires.
- The work's creator may legally relinquish his claims to the material.
- The work may have been created by a governmental agency, in which case it was in the public domain from the time of its creation.
In some cases, if a work enters the public domain after copyright expiration, anyone using the work may still be required to note who created the work. Even if some works are in the public domain due to not being copyrighted, there may be still non-copyright usage restrictions. For examples, even though the design of some national currencies may be ineligible for copyright, copying them for fraud is widely a very serious crime.