Profiting with Public Domain Content

Are you looking for loads of free, quality content that you do not have to create yourself? Look at the public domain.

You may know that works such as books, photos, movies and music are covered by copyright. Current copyright law covers a work for the life of the author plus 70 years (in the U.S.). However, copyright did not always last this long and there are many works on which the copyright has expired.
For example, under U.S. law, works published before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published between 1923 and 1963 are in the public domain if the copyright was not properly renewed.

Anything published after 1963 is probably still covered by copyright. There are a few exceptions, such as some works that were published before March 1, 1989 without a copyright notice, and works created by employees of the Federal government. (There are lots of loopholes to the lack of copyright notice issue though, so do not rely on this without professional advice.)

There is information about determining the copyright status of a work at You can also hire a firm, such as Thomson & Thomson, to do a search of the records for you.

Once you have determined that a work is in the public domain, you can use it freely. For example, if a book is in the public domain, you may:

1. Republish the book in print or as an ebook without any changes. The work remains in the public domain and others may also use it.

2. Make modifications to the book and republish it. The changes might include updating language and examples, or adding commentary. Although the original work remains in the public domain, your new material may be copyrighted.

3. Completely revise the book. This creates a derivative work and you would claim copyright on the new work.

4. Create a derivative work in another form, such as a screenplay. You would own the copyright on the new work.

5. Record an audio version of the book. Although the book would still be in the public domain, you would own the copyright on your recording of the work.

6. Break up the work into short ebooks or articles. You can use the work as written or revise it. Breaking up the work does not create a new work that can be copyrighted, but if you write new material or substantially revise the public domain work, you may claim copyright on your work.

These ideas are just the beginning. You can use public domain works any way you wish.

Think there is nothing of value to be found in the public domain? A book called “The Science of Getting Rich” was written in 1910 by Wallace Wattles. Rebecca Fine has created a profitable business from that book at And have you heard of a little book and DVD called “The Secret”? They have sold gazillions of copies (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration) and “The Secret” was based on “The Science of Getting Rich.”

Want to learn more about making money with public domain works and other content? Go to to find out how you can make money with content you create as well as content created by others.