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Public Domain Web Resources

Public Domain Images
Public Domain Films
Public Domain Music
Miscellaneous Public Domain Materials
General Resources on Public Domain

What is Public Domain

Researching Public Domain Resources


While most of the links are to web pages that offer copyright-free, public domain images available to use free of charge, some resources stipulate use restrictions, and others charge a fee to access the materials.


Public Domain Images


The Best Copyright-Free Photo Libraries
A part of the web site, this section highlights government-created photos that are “free of copyright and free to use.”

Corbis Images
“Corbis is a creative resource for advertising, marketing and media professionals, providing a comprehensive selection of photography, illustration, footage, typefaces and rights clearance services.” Sister companies cover
moving images, music, and movie clips.”

Creative Commons
“We work to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in “the commons” — the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing.”
When searching Creative Commons you can limits results to “use for commercial purposes” or “modify, adapt, build upon.” The Flickr location for Creative Commons attributed photos indicates accessibility.

Flickr – Public Domain collection (Government Sources)
“The works in this collection may be used for free. According to the source, they are believed to be in the public domain. Please note, however, that while some photos are unrestricted, others may require attribution.”
The site warns that it is the responsibility of the user to make sure there are no copyright holders or restrictions. Your results will be outside resources that should display the Creative Commons license.

Getty Images
Getty Images contains images, footage and music. Although you have to license the material, you do not need to search for copyright holders.

Gimp-Savvy Photo Archive
This site contains more than 27,000 free photos and images.  Contents of the archives come from three main resources: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Google Images
By doing an advanced search you can select Usage rights, including “labeled for reuse,” “labeled for commercial resuse,” or “labeled for resuse with modifications.”

Library of Congress Prints and Publications Online Catalog
“The Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) contains catalog records and digital images representing a rich cross-section of still pictures held by the Prints & Photographs Division and, in some cases, other units
of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress offers broad public access to these materials as a contribution to education and scholarship.” Information regarding the rights of the collections clearly states “Rights assessment
is your responsibility.”

National Archives
The National Archives (NARA) website contains thousands of images. Their page “Publication of Photographs Furnished by Still Pictures” includes information on using images. ARC, Archival Research Catalog, can be
searched specifically for digital images. “How to Search in ARC” provides helpful information to help narrow your search. The page “How to Order Reproductions…” contains important information, as does “ ARC Guide for Educators and Students.”. The site also includes Motion Picture Films and Sound and Video Recordings and Cartographic and Architectural Records.
The image archives of the City of Philadelphia, this collection contains valuable resources for Philadelphia images. “The Philadelphia City Archive is one of the country’s largest municipal archives, with about 2 million
photographs, dating from the late 1800’s. The archivist is available to assist researchers.

Prelinger Images
The owner of this site of films states the goal as ” to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere.” The film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress.

Public Domain Images / Free Photos
This resource lists links to other sites containing public domain images.

Public Domain Photographs
From the Public Domain Sherpa site, this list of links includes both public domain and copyrighted photos, as well as public domain with use restrictions.  The list provides information on what to find on each page.

Public Domain Pictures.Net
“ is a repository for free public domain photos. You can upload your own pictures and share your work with others. If you intend to use an image you find here for commercial use, please be aware that
no model or property release was obtained and pictures featuring products should be used with care. The pictures are free for you to use and you should feel good about doing so.” This site includes over 9,000 free images.
categories include Symbols, Background, Architecture, and Business.
“All photos on this web site are public domain. You may use these images for any purpose, including commercial. But if some photo contains logos and products you need to be careful. Using someone else’s trademark
commercially can get you sued.” This site contains 5,000 free photos and 8,000 free cliparts.

U.S. Government Photos and Images
“Some of these photos and images are available for use in the public domain, and they may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However some photos and images may be protected by license. We strongly
recommend you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use.” This site breaks the photos into categories, including Defense and International Relations; History, Arts and Culture; and Money and Taxes. The
categories are then broken into more refined topics. Many open new government links, and must be analyzed to determine if the images can be used free of charge.

The Urban Archives
Philadelphia-area collection maintained by Temple University. The collection includes archives of “The Evening Bulletin” and “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” two of Philadelphia major newspapers. The archivists are available to assist researchers.

Wikimedia Commons
A database of almost 8,000,000 freely usable media files divided by categories.

Wikimedia – Free Image Sources
Many of the links provided on this site are to images that are in the public domain. 

Wikimedia - Public Domain Image Resources
This site lists resources however cautions that it “does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain.”


Public Domain Films

Internet Archive Feature Films
This section of the Internet Archive contains films, short, silent movies and trailers available for free downloading.

Internet Archive Moving Image Archive
“…library of free movies, films, and videos. This library contains thousands of digital movies uploaded by Archive users which range from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts.
Many of these videos are available for free download.” Consult this site’s Frequently Asked Questions for information on copyright of movies on the site. Categories within the Moving image Archive include Ephemeral Films, Movies, News and Public Affairs, and the Prelinger Archives which contains “films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere”


Public Domain Music

Home to the Choral Public Domain Library; includes downloadable audio files.

A page “focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources.”

PD Info (Public Domain Information Project)
Site includes public domain music and royalty free music, but cautions to check for copyright of specific versions of a piece of music, and to use sheet music old enough to qualify as public domain. Costs may be involved to download the music.

Public Domain Recordings
A Public Domain Sherpa page, this lists spoken word and music recording resources.

Royalty Free
This site “provides you with the resources you need to complete a variety of educational, personal, and non-profit projects.”

Wikipedia – Free Sound Resources
Includes archival and recent recordings of music in the public domain.


Miscellaneous Public Domain Materials

Public Domain Maps
A Public Domain Sherpa page listing resources for maps that are both public domain and copyrighted.

Wikipedia – Public Domain Resources
Provides links to variety of public domain resources, including maps, architecture, and the sciences.


General Resources on Public Domain

Center for Social Media
“The Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes media for public knowledge and action—media made by, for, and with publics to address the problems that they share.” This site includes a number of documents relevant to the issue, including the “ Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use” and Expanding User Rights For Documentary Filmmakers.

Center for the Study of the Public Domain
A program of the Duke Law School, the Center’s mission is to “to promote research and scholarship on the contributions of the public domain to speech, culture, science and innovation, to promote debate about the balance needed in our intellectual property system and to translate academic research into public policy solutions.”

Creative Commons
Creative Commons works “to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in ‘the commons’ — the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing.”  When searching Creative Commons you can limits results to “use for commercial purposes” or “modify, adapt, build upon.”

Public Domain Sherpa
This site contains information on public domain images, including links to public domain images, and other useful information. Pages cover photos, copyright information on sound recordings, and links to recording resources (spoken word and music).

Wikipedia: Public Domain

Wikipedia – Public Domain Resources
Provides links to public domain resources, including maps, music.  Also includes links to basic information on public domain.


What is Public Domain

Individual creative works not protected by copyright, patents, or trademarks are in the public domain. These works are not owned by anyone and can be used by anyone without seeking permission. There are two basic tenets that identify a work as being in the public domain:

  • The copyright has expired and was not renewed
  • The original work was created specifically for public domain


Determining Public Domain

Determining whether a work is in the public domain can be a difficult task. It is the responsibility of the user to determine if a work is in the public domain. Many web sites (see Public Domain Sherpa as an example), books and articles address this issue. While many public domain images are available free of charge there may be use restrictions. It is the responsibility of the user to determine the status of the work and determine if there are any use restrictions or usage fees.


Researching Public Domain Resources

There are many links to public domain web pages listed under the heading Public Domain Web Resources. In addition to those web pages you may want to conduct additional web searches. Listed below are some key phrases to use when searching the web for additional public domain pages.

“copyright free” +films
“copyright free” +images
“copyright free” +music
“copyright free” +photos
“free images”
“public domain” + films
“public domain” +images
“public domain” +music
“public domain” +photos

Searching the web for organizations related to your topic can also provide a resource for public domain works. Some examples are:

  • University archives
  • State, city or regional historical associations
  • National associations and organizations

A basic web search will direct you to relevant web pages for these groups. Public domain works may be featured on their web pages, or you may need to contact someone affiliated with the organization for information.