Entering the Public Domain

Created: March 2017

Last Updated: April 2020

This learning experience is part of a playlist — two or more learning experiences focused on specific areas of the digital world. You can find this playlist, Sharing Your Work Online — What License to Use?, here. This particular learning experience is the third in a sequence of six. Learning experiences in a playlist build off of each other, but they were designed so that they can also be completed on their own! 

Estimated time: 

30 minutes

  • [10 minutes] Activity
  • [20 minutes] Challenge
Group or individual activity:Individual
Ages:13-18 years old
Grades: Grades 8-12
Online / offline elements:This learning experience contains an offline activity and a challenge that requires a computer or mobile device with Internet access.

Main area: Law

Additional areas: Content Production

License:This learning experience has been created by Youth and Media and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution­ShareAlike 4.0 International license. For more information, please visit https://dcrp.berkman.harvard.edu/about

Learning Goal

Understand the concept of Public Domain and learn about the repositories where one can obtain materials from the Public Domain.


  • Computer or mobile device with Internet access



In the learning experience “Copyright Basics,” you learned how people who want to use copyrighted work must first obtain permission. But what happens when the author has been dead for hundreds of years, or if the author is a public institution or government? Does someone own every piece of content ever made?

Certain works like these that are not protected by Copyright exist in the Public Domain. Public Domain work is free to be used without obtaining the creator’s (or anyone else’s) permission.

A variety of famous works exist in the Public Domain, like Mona Lisa and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Content in the Public Domain circulates freely, and anyone can use these works.

However, there are still some important considerations to keep in mind. Copyrighted work doesn’t go into the Public Domain until 70 years after its owner dies. After those 70 years, Public Domain resources are great for remixing without any concern for Fair Use rules, and making new music, films, and other content. You can also release content to the Public Domain yourself, allowing anyone to use it. Governments often issue reports in this manner.

In this learning experience, we will explore Public Domain and learn about where to find these resources online. With a solid understanding of Public Domain, you’ll be able to consult online repositories to find copyright-free content for your next project. Then, once you’ve made a GIF with Public Domain content, you’ll learn about an exciting way to protect your work and share it at the same time, on your terms.


Create a GIF using images from one of the Public Domain repositories (e.g., Wikimedia CommonsFlickr’s The Commons) and the web tool Giflr. List the sources of the images you used. In particular, note the date when the specific images were created. 

Next Steps 

Great job on completing this challenge! We bet that others are excited to see what you learned! We encourage you to share your GIF, and list of sources, with a friend, educator, mentor, advisor, or a family member. Feel free to also share your GIF and sources with the Youth and Media team through email (youthandmedia@cyber.harvard.edu). Please indicate the title of the learning experience in the subject line of the email.


Individual vs. Group 
Release Date 
April, 2020