Enriching Life Through Innovative Ideas SM

How does my work end up in the public domain?

Many California copyright holders feel pretty secure that the government will protect their work. Still, with the recent news that 2019 will see a lot of copyrighted music, movies, poems and books enter the public domain for the first time, it is helpful to know how intellectual property enters the public domain and whether you should be concerned that yours might do the same.

According to Stanford University, copyright does have natural expiration dates, but those dates will vary according to when they were published. If a work was published in the United States before the year 1923, it is now considered public domain. However, thanks to a law passed in 1998, it took until the year 2019 for any works from 1923 to become public domain. From there, works published in 1924 will pass into public domain in 2020, and so on.

But not everything can be copyrighted or remain copyrighted.

Some intellectual property owners lose their copyrights when it is discovered that their work could not be copyrighted to begin with. For example, some phrases, facts and theories are not covered by copyright law. Moreover, ideas also cannot be copyrighted; only the way an idea is expressed is allowed to be protected.

Copyrights are also lost when intellectual property owners fail to renew their copyrights when they are about to expire. Copyrighted works before the year 1964 required the copyright holder to renew the copyright 28 years after the initial publication. If the work was not renewed, it fell into the public domain. However, since the law was changed, this renewal requirement is not in force for works after 1964.

Whether you want to copyright a work is up to you. There are people who not only fail to register their work for copyright protection, but will actually make it available to the public for their own use. This is known as dedication. But be aware that dedications are rare, so if you should find a published work with no obvious copyright status, you should not assume it is free to use.

If you are uncertain that you have followed correct procedures for keeping your work out of the public domain or if you feel someone is using your work under the false impression that it has not been copyrighted, call Wang IP Law Group for answers to your questions or for legal assistance. You may also check out the website for more information about guarding your intellectual property. Keep in mind that this article is not legal advice and only offers educational benefit.

FindLaw Network

What Our Clients Say

Starting a new business can be a bit scary. Aside from worries of failure, there’s also the hassle of making sure all legal paperwork are properly filed. I reached out to Mr. Wang (Tommy) because of his excellent reviews and reputation and I am so glad I did. He was thorough and meticulous in answering all of my concerns and took time to find out special laws and policies regarding the kind of business I am starting. I could focus on the daily practical side of starting my new office without worry because I felt Tommy was reliable and took my case seriously. My business is opened and it’s all been a smooth start because of Tommy’s help. I have plans to start another business venture in the next few years and I already know I’ll be coming back to Wang IP Law.

The Shindig W.

I came to Tommy for help reviewing a licensing agreement I had secured with a well-known manufacturer. Tommy made sure I understood all the details in the contract and he negotiated with the company to improve my side of the deal. I mentioned to Tommy at my first consultation that we were looking to expand throughout the US and were investing a lot of money to make a big entrance into the market. I did not think I would have my store open so soon but Tommy also has connections with the local area and realtors to help me secure the location for my first store in the Los Angeles area. Tommy works a lot with the local businesses and he understands how to transition from the Asian market to US market. Within 8 months my store was open for business and fully operating. I must recommend Tommy to any business owners looking for help with contracts and improving their side of the deal. Tommy has the knowledge and experience to make sure there is a smooth process to open for business here, and make sure that your company is set up for success.


I think Tommy and his team by far considered the best people to work with in my 16 business years. Beside quick responses to all my inquiries, they also done things right and providing very professional solutions. I’m highly recommending Tommy and his firm to all business owners.

Calvin C.

I have been working on my Utility Patent for almost 4 years. I have hired and fired two very reputable IP firms because with all their expertise and reputation for being some of the top firms in IP Law, I felt a lack of connection and care in my product, time and financial investment. Then I found Tommy and his team. Tommy does not waste time. He and his team are professional and extremely thorough. After 4 years, I finally found a legal team that I felt spent the time to really understand the components of my utility patent. Tommy also very mindful of cost and how and where my money would be better spent. I really feel I am in great hands with Tommy and his team. They have been patient with my revisions. And most importantly, they made me feel that they fully understood the importance this patent is to me. It has been a great and comforting pleasure working with Tommy.


Read All