Copyright:Support Guides/Public Domain/On the Web

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Many websites provide access to digital reproductions of works that are in the Public Domain. For instance, the websites of museums and art galleries often include online collections of images, and many of these images depict manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and other creative works that are in the Public Domain.

Although the act of digitizing a Public Domain work is not itself sufficient to create a new, copyrighted version of the original work, it is important to exercise caution when using such digital reproductions, as they are often made available subject to terms and conditions in legally enforceable license agreements.

More specifically, if a website’s terms of use specifically restrict the ways in which you can use the website’s content, then these restrictions would prevail over your right to use that content in accordance with the Copyright Act. For example, if a museum’s website includes an image of a painting that is in the Public Domain, but the website’s terms of use prohibit you from copying or distributing the image, then you must abide by this restriction.

This is also true of license agreements for electronic resources accessed through UBC Library: although ARTstor includes thousands of images of works that are in the Public Domain, the ARTstor license agreement governs how these images can be used.

For a list of websites that provide access to works in the Public Domain with permissive terms of use, please see the section on Public Domain Resources.