Public Domain Can Enhance Your Business

not public domainAs you look for content to use in promoting your business on your blog, website, or emails, you’ve probably heard the term public domain. If you haven’t, or aren’t quite sure what it is and how you can use it to benefit your business, this should help. (This is the first of a series of posts on how you can use Public Domain works to help promote your business.) Simply put, public domain works are images, sounds, texts, videos or anything else that no longer has copyright protection which means that anyone can freely use them for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial. Public Domain (PD) works can be used on their own, or freely altered and turned into a derivative work with no need to attribute (credit) the original creator.

Public domain works become available in a number of different ways:

  • Many are published with no copyright in the first place. For example, most governments, including the US government, publish their materials with no copyright to begin with. In other words, photos by the US Army or NASA are born copyright free – in essence, we paid for them with our taxes.
  • The copyright can expire. Different countries have different laws governing when copyrights expire. Generally, it’s around 50 to 70 or more years from when the last creator passes away.
  • Some intellectual properties can’t be copyrighted at all and are considered public domain the moment they’re created. For example, mathematical formulas can’t be copyrighted. A list of ingredients in a recipe also can’t be copyrighted, though the accompanying text and methods can be.

Public Domain Materials to Grow Your Business

use public domainPublic domain materials can be used as a key source of content or as a supplement to your own content. For example, many businesses work by republishing public domain works or derivatives of public domain works. For example, a re-write of a Shakespeare work is a derivative of a public domain work.

Similarly, you can do the same for your business. Let’s say you run an origami store. Why not go out and find a bunch of public domain origami photos and use them on your website, with your own explanations?

Public domain audios and music are great places to look for source materials for new music. For example, remixing Mozart’s best works into your own musical pieces, or using it as background music – but you do have to look out for Performance Rights – though the music is in the Public Domain, the performance may very well have performance right restrictions. You may need to get permissions there. One of my favorite companies that I have used quite successfully in the past for checking and acquiring clearance is BZRights.

Public domain works are frequently used as supporting or background items. For example, copyright free clip-art or government images are often used to help illustrate presentations, or as background images.

One great thing about public domain works is that you can both sell them and give them away. So you can use them to create subscription premiums for your newsletters, as well as build on them to create entire digital products that you sell.

Finding Public Domain that Works for Your Business

finding public domainFinding public domain works can be a little bit of a treasure hunt. How you do your search depends in large part on how you plan on using the PD work.

If you plan on using the public domain work as supporting material, you can find a lot of what you need through Google searches and through public domain database searches. Just head over to a public domain archive (I’m updating a list of PD resources that I’ll make available at a later date) and perform a search.

You can also try using search parameters to find public domain works. For example:

  • In image search, type in “Origami Public Domain”
  • Use to find government sites with what you’re looking for. For example, “ rocket shuttle” (leave out the quotes)

If you plan on using a public domain work as a primary piece of content that you’re selling or giving away, you may want to dig a bit deeper to make sure the work is fully clear. BZRighs has the resources to help you ensure you’re clear. If you want to come up with unique content that you can sell and impress visitors, it pays to go above and beyond and make sure.

Public domain hunters often try to find their own pieces of public domain content, instead of looking for them online. Go to old bookstores, both online and offline and buy physical copies of old books that are outside copyright. If you find one that really shines, have it transcribed. Believe it or not, you can get a whole book typed up very reasonably on freelance sites like Elance.

Alternatively, you can find a piece of public domain content online and really rework it to make it shine and give it your own style, layout, and images. If you’re charging for content though, avoid just packaging easily accessible public domain works and selling it, as that can really come back to bite you.

There are many ways to find public domain works, both online and offline. The percentage of the public domain that’s easily accessible online is tiny compared to all the copyright free works out there. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of digging – it can be very good for your business.


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