How to Use Public Domain Content for Your Online Business

I thought the topic of using “public domain” works was perfectly fitting since much revenue is generated online through content creation.  Also content generates a boat load of traffic if you’re offering quality content that your readers want.

If you aren’t quite sure what “public domain” is and how you might use it for your online business, I’ll quickly explain it…

Simply this:  Public domain works are images, sounds, texts, videos or anything else that no longer has copyright protection.

Anyone can freely use them for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial. Public domain works can be used on their own, or freely altered and turned into its own derivative work with no need to attribute the original creator.

Public domain works enter into the public domain in a number of different ways:

  1. They could be published with no copyright in the first place. For example, most governments, including the US government, publish their materials with no copyright to begin with. In other words, photos by the US Army or NASA are copyright free right out of the gate.
  2. The copyright can expire. Different countries have different laws around when copyright expires. Generally, it’s around 50 to 70 years from when the last creator passes away.
  3. Some intellectual property can’t be copyrighted at all and are considered public domain the moment they’re created. For example, mathematical formulas can’t be copyrighted. A list of ingredients in a recipe also can’t be copyrighted, although the accompanying text and methods can be.

How to Use Public Domain Content in Your Online Business

Public domain materials can be used as a main source of content or as supplement to your content. For example, a lot of businesses work by republishing public domain works or derivatives of public domain works. For instance, any re-write of a Shakespeare work is a derivative of a public domain work.

Similarly, you can do the same for your online business. Let’s say you run a website about origami. Why not go out and find a bunch of public domain origami photos and use them on your website, with your own explanations?

Public domain audios and music are great places to look for source materials for new music. For example, remixing Mozart’s best works into your own musical pieces, or using it in background music.

Public domain works are frequently used as supporting or background items. For example, copyright free clipart or government images are often used to help illustrate talking points, or as background images.

One great thing about public domain works…

You can both sell them and give them away. So you can use them to create giveaway hooks for your newsletters, as well as use them to create entire digital products that you sell for money.

How Do You Find Public Domain Works?

Finding public domain works is a little bit of a treasure hunt. How you do your search depends in large part on how you plan on using the public domain work.

If you plan on using the public domain work as supporting material, you can find a lot of what you need through Google searches and through public domain database searches. Just head over to a public domain archive and perform a search. (I have a list of 50 sources for you — bookmark this article or join my Facebook page and I’ll be posting the link when I have it ready.)

You can also try using search parameters to find public domain works. For example:

  • In Google Images, type in “Origami Public Domain”
  • Use to find government sites with what you’re looking for. For example, “ rocket shuttle”

If you plan on using a public domain work as a primary piece of content that you’re selling or giving away, you may want to dig a bit deeper. If you want to come up unique pieces of content that you can sell and impress visitors, it pays to go above and beyond.

Public domain hunters often try to find their own pieces of public domain content, instead of looking for them online. Go to old bookstores, both online and offline and buy physical copies of old books that are outside copyright. If you find one that really shines, have it transcribed. Believe it or not, you can get a whole book typed up for just a couple hundred dollars on Elance.

Alternatively, you can find a piece of public domain content online and really rework it to make it shine and give it your own style. If you’re charging for content though, avoid just packaging easily accessible public domain works and selling it, as that can really come back to bite you.

There are many ways to find public domain works, both online and offline. The percentage of the public domain that’s easily accessible online is tiny compared to all the copyright free works out there. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of digging.


What’s to come:

10 Common Public Domain Mistakes

50 Sources of Public Domain Content

50 Ways to Use Public Domain Content for Your Business

Join my Facebook Page to be Alerted of Each Topic


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