How to Find Public Domain Content

One of the easiest places to find authoritative public domain content is … your local used bookstore or library!

True — virtually everything contained in the books you’ll find at these locations were protected by copyright. But … it’s also true that many of these copyrights have expired — making the contents of those volumes completely public domain.

US copyright law has gone through several iterations — but the two things you need to remember are “75 years from copyright date” and “Sonny Bono”!

The copyright law originally stated that a copyright would last for 75 years. Thus, if a book were copyrighted in 1900, the copyright would expire in 1975. If a book were published in 1920, the copyright would expire in 1995. If a book were copyrighted in 1922, the copyright would expire in 1997. But … if a book was copyrighted in 1923 or later, then things take on a whole new slant … courtesy of then-Congressman Sonny Bono.

You see, a particular item was originally copyrighted in 1923. It’s copyright was due to expire in 1998 — sending this item into the public domain. This is normally not a problem — truthfully, most people don’t care about things copyrighted so far back. Expiring the copyright can actually grant these works new life in the public domain.

In this case, though, the item due to expire was a mouse — Micky Mouse!

Disney was understandably very concerned about their flagship icon becoming available to anyone in the public domain. Congressman Sonny Bono introduced legislation to extend copyright protection for an additional 20 years. This legislation passed in 1998 — but only applied to items that were not yet in the public domain. Thus, an item copyrighted in 1992 was public domain after 75 years — but anything copyrighted in or after 1923 was protected for 95 years.

So — to play it perfectly safe and legal — if the copyright date on a published work is 1922 or earlier, the item is now in the public domain and may be freely used (but not necessarily re-copyrighted and sold). If the copyright date is 1923 or later, it’s best to leave it alone till at least the year 2018!

So what good is a book published and copyrighted prior to 1923? Well, if it’s a book of sheet music — or a book of classic poetry, literature, or theater — or a book of formula, travel, or … well, you get the idea. Some things become dated — but some things are just as current today as they were when they were originally published.

This doesn’t mean you can find a book by Mark Twain in the bookstore and freely copy and distribute it. You’ll likely find the copyright on that published work is fairly current. However, if you find an old version of the same book published and copyrighted prior to 1923, then you can safely use it!

How to Profit From Public Domain Content

If you have been looking for ideas to start your own online business, you may have heard about using works that are in the public domain to either create products or to use to build content sites. This is a great business model to use if you are just starting an online business as most of the hard work has been done for you, and you can shortcut the time taken to get your business up and running.

Public Domain is defined in Webster’s dictionary as, “the realm embracing property rights that belong to the community at large, are unprotected by copyright or patent, and are subject to appropriation by anyone.”

The essence of this definition is that there are no laws restricting public use of the work for which the copyright or patent has expired, and not been renewed. In the United States, this definition also includes any work that was published before 1923, works produced by the US Government, and other specific Governments, and any work that has been specifically donated to the public domain.

This means that there are books, articles, songs, films, paintings, photographs and some inventions that you will be able to obtain for free and use as the basis for your own business. It is totally legal in the majority of cases to resell these works for your own profit.

These works are all free to be used by the public in any way that they want, so you can use specific parts of a public domain work, or the entire work itself. Similarly, you are also free to create new work from the parts, or sell the entire work, depending upon what your own business objective is. This means that you can legally make a profit from these resources, and benefit from the original author’s work to build your own income.

You must be careful however not to confuse something that you get for free with something that is in the public domain, otherwise you may end up in serious trouble for breach of copyright, so ensure you check first.

A very quick and easy way to make money is to use the public domain books that you download and sell them for use on people’s iPods or PDAs. As most books are downloaded as text files, which is the same file type required for use in iPods and PDAs, you do not even need to convert the documents before selling them. These are also very high demand products, so you can capture a niche market very easily.

Another profitable business idea is to create audio ebooks from your public domain downloads. You can easily read the books out loud, record them onto your computer and then use software to convert these to MP3 files. Or, if you prefer, you can outsource the work to have these converted into an audio eBook and then receive the finished product ready for sale.

Beginner’s Guide To Public Domain Content

Public domain (PD) content includes any documents that can be used by the public for any purpose. You can break down public domain material into four different categories. The first category is general information. This is information that is widely known such as U.S. state capitals or other facts and figures. The second category is for works such as films and books that were donated by their creators to the public domain. This means that the creators did not copyright the works and made them available for use by the public.

The third type of PD material is works by the government or representatives of the government. This can include manuals, brochures, special reports, and other related documents. The fourth and final type of PD material is works that were copyrighted at one time but have lost their copyright for some reason. This can include works that were created before 1923 or works created between 1923 and 1963 that have lapsed copyrights that were never renewed. So what does this mean for you? It means that you can take advantage of this PD material and use it to generate profits you never thought possible.

Finding Public Domain (PD) Materials

If you’re going to take advantage of PD material, you need to know where to find it without a lot of frustration. There are several great online resources where you can literally find millions of pages of free PD material. One of the best resources available is Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is a compilation of over 19,000 free e-books, most of which are in the public domain.

These PD e-books can be used in many ways; in fact, Project Gutenberg encourages the use and distribution of the materials found in their database. The online catalog is easy to use and allows you to search for e-books by author’s name or by specific keywords. This makes it convenient and easy for you to find the e-book you are looking for.

Another great resource for PD works is Alibris. Alibris is an online bookstore featuring over 60 million books that are used, new, or out-of-print and can be found at Alibris. Not all of the books at this bookstore are in the PD, so be careful when you’re looking for public domain works. The easiest way to do this is to use the Advanced Search feature to search for works published before 1923.

To perform this type of search, click on “Advanced Search” and type “1923” in the search box for “publication year.” You can also search for books published after 1922 and before 1964 to find books from 1923 to 1963 that may be in the PD. It is important to conduct more in-depth copyright research for these titles to make sure that these works are indeed in the PD.

Google is also a great resource for works in the public domain. Google has many features that allow you to search web sites, books, and other works for information. You can do a search for “public domain books” or “public domain information” and visit specific web sites that have PD information. You can also search Google for specific search terms and find information that is in the PD. Always perform copyright searches to ensure that you can use each work freely and without infringing upon anyone else’s copyrights.

Profiting with Public Domain Content

There are many ways for you to take free public domain content(PDC) and turn it into sizeable profits. The key is to find public domain materials that people are interested in and then market them to your prospects in a way that makes them very attractive to potential buyers. Your imagination is the only thing that can limit your profits when it comes to using PDC.

E-Courses with Public Domain Content

If you’ve ever wanted to develop an e-course, using PD content is one of the fastest and easiest ways to do so. There are many ways for you to use public domain works to develop an e-course. One is by using a public domain e-book and building lessons around the e-book. You may choose a literary e-book and develop lessons pertaining to that piece of literature. You can also split an e-book up into several sections and send your course subscribers one section per week with related course materials.

However you choose to package your e-course, using a work from the public domain speeds up the course development process and makes it easier for you to start distributing your course and making profits.

Special Reports with Public Domain Content

If you’ve been struggling to produce a special report that you can sell or include with the purchase of your products and services, public domain works may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Instead of struggling to write pages and pages of a special report, you can use a work from the public domain, tweak it to meet your needs, and distribute it as a special report. This works well for nonfiction works such as business, marketing, science, and technology e-books. If the public domain work is long enough, you can package it into several reports and increase your profits even more than you can with one report.

You don’t necessarily need to sell the report individually to see profit. You can use the special report as an incentive for customers to purchase your other (more expensive) products and services.

Newsletters with Public Domain Content

If you want to energize your weekly or monthly newsletters with informative and interesting content, you can use PDC to save time and writing costs. A few searches for your topic of interest may yield copyright-free e-books and articles that you can use in your newsletter.

Just because these PD works don’t exactly match what you’re looking for doesn’t mean you can’t use them to create an information-packed newsletter. Because they’re in the public domain, you can edit these works to meet the needs of your customers. You can add information, delete information, reword the text, add graphics and tables, and make any other changes necessary to ensure that your newsletter will wow your prospects and current customers and make them want to buy from you again and again.

E-Books with Public Domain Content

Have you always wanted to sell e-books but you’ve never had the time or the ability to sit down and write a great e-book that will be a valuable information product? With PDC, you can take works from the PD and turn them into profitable e-books that boost your sales and your profits.

You can sell the e-books as is or you can make changes and distribute the improved e-book through your web site. Using public domain works is an easy, inexpensive, and fast way to sell e-books or use them as incentives for your customers.

AdSense Campaigns with Public Domain Content

Using PDC is a quick and easy way to develop several AdSense campaigns without having to write your own content or pay a ghost writer to provide content for you. Google AdSense campaigns allow you to place advertisements on your web sites and earn a commission each time someone clicks on one of those advertisements. When you have a variety of public domain works at your disposal, you can easily set up AdSense campaigns for a number of different topics.

Once each site is set up with the advertisements related to your content, you can start earning commission immediately without doing any more work. This type of income is residual income – you set up the web pages and continue to reap the benefits even when the work is done.

SEO with Public Domain Content

Search engine optimization is made easier when you have a ton of relevant content on your web site. Using free PD works on your web site can help you go from no content to tons of content in just a few hours. You can post the content as-is or you can tweak the content so that it includes specific keywords that will drive even more traffic to your web site. Linking is also an important of SEO that can benefit from the use of PDC.

You can break PD works into short articles that you submit to online article directories. Include a resource box with a link to your web site with each article and you’ll end up with dozens if not hundreds of one-way links to your web site. These extra one-way links will boost your SEO efforts and can help you drive targeted visitors to your web site on a daily basis.

Public Domain Content On The Internet

If you don’t have a library near you and have Internet access, you can find plenty of public domain information online if you just know where to look.

One word of caution though, and this is very important. If you go to a site online that claims to have public domain works or information and the title of the site is “Joe’s Little Odds And Ends” you might want to be careful about accepting what Joe has to say about what may or may not be a public domain work. No offense to Joe, but you just have no way of knowing if he is an expert. This is why, in this series, I am not going to give you any list on public domain works, because I am NO expert on this. Copyright notices lapse and are applied for all the time and there is no way anybody can keep up with it on a daily basis. That’s why, if you want to find out if something is public domain or not, you go right to the sources. And there are several reputable ones.

University Of Michigan – This is probably one of the best places online to go to find public domain works of modern English collections. There is a lot of information at this site and it’s easy to get lost. So take your time. If you have problems finding your way around, email them. They’re very helpful.

Bartleby – This is another big one online. Bartleby has a ton of works that are in the public domain, including the American Heritage Book of English Usage, Grays Anatomy (sound familiar?), World Factbook, and so much more. Too much to go into here. Bartleby is a virtual gold mine of public domain works.

Ibiblio – This site has a treasure chest of public domain works including art, geography, biographies, (how many life stories have been made into movies or books?) language, literature, natural science, reference, religion, and the list goes on and on. Most people who want to do life stories of somebody will come to Ibiblio for their materials.

Authorama – This site specializes in books by a number of authors whose works are in the public domain. These books include those written by authors like Hans Christian Anderson, Aristotle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lewis Carroll (who authored Alice In Wonderland), Charles Dickens (which explains all the Christmas Carol clones of the past 50 years or so), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Grimm Brothers, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein, and yes it’s public domain) and the list goes on and on.

Creating Your Products From Public Domain Content

One of the easiest things to do with public domain material is to simply make a collection of works. It is best to deal with works that are short, such as poems and short stories. There are several directions that you can go with this. I will give you a few suggestions here. Mind you, these are not the be all and end all. They are just a few of the many things you can do.

The first thing is to go with the most popular public domain poet or author that you can find. Take their most famous works, probably about 8 to 12, and put them into a book. Will there be other books out there with these collections? Probably, but at least you know there will be a demand for them. To get your share of the pie, simply use the advertising methods I’ve outlined in previous articles and get the word out. You’ll make your share of sales with hard work.

Another route you can go is to take the same famous author and find their lesser known works. Then, publish a book with a title something like ‘The Unknown Works of’ or ‘The Little Known Works of’ This is certainly to draw some interest from fans of the author who aren’t familiar with these works.

Some people take a totally different direction. They look for works from a relatively unknown author. The first thing they do though is to read these works to see if they are any good. If they find a gold mine, they publish these works using a title something like ‘The Literary Genius of the Unknown’ The people you are going to attract with this kind of book are avid readers who are constantly looking for old authors that nobody has ever heard of. Believe me, they exist, the authors and the people looking for them.

Now, the above is a small market because there aren’t that many of these people. But, there is also almost no competition either. This is kind of like long tail keyword promotion where you find a niche where very few people are doing searches each month combined with a very few number of competing sites coming up in the search. In the case of public domain works, this competition will be even less. Why? The same reason why you took a look at this topic and said to yourself, ‘Why would anybody care?’ Well, if you just type the words ‘public domain’ into a Google search engine, you will find over 62 million sites. If there is that much info out there on public domain, then somebody has got to be interested in this stuff, otherwise a lot of people are wasting a lot of time.

The things that you can do with public domain works are limited only by your imagination. The point is, there are a ton of works out there that you don’t have to do much with in order to make an income from them. You just have to find the time to put in the legwork to first find the work, and then decide what it is you want to do with it.

And again, for those of you who think there is no money in stuff that is almost 100 years old, take a look at what Walt Disney did and what Ted Turner just recently did with all those public domain movies.