“Public Domain” is an American term used to describe creative works that have an expired copyright duration. In New Zealand, those works are called “Out of copyright.”
We’ve all heard things being described as being in the public domain, but when it comes to copyright, it means something different than many people think. People confuse “posting online” with “public domain.” Just because something is widely available or accessible does not mean you can do anything you like with it. In fact, works created and published digitally have the same protection as those created and displayed physically.
In Aotearoa, the creative rights for works are currently protected for the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years. In other countries, it might be plus 70 years, but things can get a little complicated based on date of publishing. After that time, the work is “out of copyright,” or “in the public domain,” meaning that anyone can make copies, or use the work in whatever way they like, so it’s open season on works that are in the public domain.
Technically, taking a screenshot and reposting it is infringing on someone’s copyright, as Dua Lipa found out, when she reposted a papparazzi picture of herself on her IG account. “Public domain” has everything to do with whether a work is still protected by Copyright law, and nothing to do with how visible or easily accessible it is, so that street mural that you love? Yes, it's protected by copyright, and although it may be out in public, and maybe even by the Domain in your town, it probably isn't in the Public Domain.
Are you interested in finding out how copyright applies to you?
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Written by Karen Workman, Kaiwhakahaere Whakapa | Creative Rights Educator