The Public Domain – How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More by Stephen Fishman

The 4th edition of “The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More” by Attorney Stephen Fishman is an exceptional guide to this often confusing topic of public domain works that just happen to be free for the taking if you know what to look for and where to look.

Published by Nolo, a publisher that is passionate about making the law accessible to everyone, the book is easy to understand by the layperson, but still had depth that I as an attorney found quite satisfying for a basic text on the issues surrounding public domain works.

The book is logically formatted and contains 22 chapters that take up over 400 pages. Obviously the book starts out with an introduction chapter where Fishman explains what public domain actual is and provides information on the gray areas of public domain works. He then briefly discusses copyright law and the looting of the public domain ins chapter two. I would recommend a person further their study with a text specifically on copyright to enhance their understanding of this topic. After reading this book, I might just check out Fishman’s “The Copyright Handbook.” He did an excellent job here, so I’d trust his other book would be beneficial as well.

The next chapters are specific to the kind of work you are looking at in the public domain. Fishman starts with writings, maybe the most common work when people think of copyright and public domain. The next chapters discuss Music, Art, Photography, Movies and Television, Computer Software, Architecture, Maps, Choreography, Databases and Collections, and Titles respectively. Each of these chapters contains a wealth of information related to public domain and the type of work addressed in the chapter. Again, all of the information is easily understood and organized in a way to make the book not only easy to read and understand, but fascinating and enjoyable as well. (okay, maybe if you are not an attorney, you won’t enjoy reading legal books, but it is fascinating to learn about this topic) Fishman also provides numerous websites and other sources to further your study and to help with your searching and researching regarding public domain works.

In his next chapters, Fishman delves into topics such as Public Domain Elements in Copyrighted Writings, Copyrights Restored From the Public Domain, and The Public Domain Outside the United States. From there he goes into The Internet and Public Domain, how long copyright protection lasts, and copyright notice requirements. All of these chapters contain solid advice.

The final three chapters contain information on traps for the unwary, trademark and publicity rights, advice on researching copyright office records, and what to do if a work in not in the public domain, including a small segment on Fair Use.

I found this to be a unique and excellent guide to find and use public domain, or in other words – copyright-free material with no permission or fees required, works. If you need to find or identify what creative works are protected by copyright and what works are not, this is an excellent place to start. Highly recommended if you want or need to know more about this topic.

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Alain Burrese, J.D. is a mediator/attorney with Bennett Law Office P.C. and an author/speaker through his own company Burrese Enterprises Inc. He teaches people to live with the warrior’s edge through his writing and speaking on a variety of topics focusing on the business areas of negotiation and success principles as well as self-defense and safety topics. He is the author of Hard-Won Wisdom From the School of Hard Knocks, several instructional dvds, and numerous articles. You can find out more about Alain Burrese at his websites and

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