A work that does not have copyright because of expired protection, the work was not renewed, it was ineligible for protection (e.g. See 17 U.S. Code § 105) or it was donated to the public are considered to be in the public domain (Stanford University Libraries, n.d). When the original Copyright Act in 1790 was written, the protection on works of authorship were limited to 14 years. However, from 1831 to the present Congress has continuously extended copyright protection, placing a limitation on the number of works that enter the public domain (Eldred ET AL. v. Ashcroft, Attorney General, 537 U.S. 186 (2003)). Currently a work does not enter the public domain for 70 years after the death of the creator (17 U.S.C. § 302(a)). Also, “in the case of an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first” (17 U.S.C § 302 (c)). Although there are certain types of works that enter the public domain from the moment of creation (e.g., government works, public records, facts, ideas, and news elements), many works that would have fallen into the public domain because of copyright expiration have constantly been delayed. The extension of copyright protection by Congress and the removal of the requirement of a copyright notice to gain protection has not only prolonged copyright for works that were already protected, but has also given protection to works that would have previously been placed in the public domain immediately (Golan v. Holder, U.S.____ (2012)).
Works created by the federal government automatically fall into the public domain. According to Section 105 of the United States Code, “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise” (17 U.S.C. § 105). Hence, presidential speeches, public records and materials from court cases fall into the public domain and are free for use by the general public. The government can, however, hold copyright over donated materials.