Public domain and creative commons

Public domain

Copyright protects works for a set period of time. The length of a term of copyright protection depends on various factors, such as the date and place of publication and whether it’s a work of corporate authorship.

When works eventually lose their copyright protection, they enter the “public domain,” making them free for everyone to use.

There’s no official list of works in the public domain, so it will be your responsibility to verify that a work is in the public domain if you want to use it. Keep in mind that rules for public domain may differ by country.

  • For more guidance on public domain, see the Copyright Information Center from Cornell University.
  • Certain works created by U.S. federal government agencies are in the public domain immediately upon publication.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses provide a standard way for content creators to grant someone else permission to use their work. This allows anyone to remix, transform, and build upon the material in these videos for free.

YouTube allows users to mark their videos with a Creative Commons CC BY license. If you've marked your video with a CC BY license, you retain your copyright and other users get to reuse your work subject to the terms of the license.

Learn more about creative commons here.

Head’s up: Be aware that some users may mark their videos as Creative Commons even if they don’t have all necessary rights. It’s up to you to determine whether using such a video might infringe on someone’s copyright, so it’s a good idea to check on this first.

Fair use

Fair use, on the other hand, allows you to reuse copyright-protected material, under certain circumstances, without getting permission from the copyright owner. We'll cover more in our course on fair use.