Public Domain Resources
Public domain does not fully describe the types of resources available on this page. We have provided a list of easy to use resources with few restrictions, whether they are in the public domain, publicly available or available for use by the owners or by the website with limited restrictions.
Why This List?
The following compilation of resources is intended to connect instructors, researchers, and students to public domain materials and publicly accessible media that are available to users with little to no restrictions. Materials found through these links can be used for individual study or to supplement formal class lectures and, as such, can serve as a resource beyond traditional slides or textbooks. This compilation allows instructors, students, and other researchers to access a wide array of materials without needing to address the copyright issues involved in making one’s own collection.
Why ‘Not’ This List?
This list is not meant to be construed as a silver bullet to completely avoiding copyright. While the original intent behind curating this list was to provide a helpful resource, we have not reviewed each, individual item made available by the sites below, and neither the Copyright Advisory Office, nor Columbia University make any warranty that the materials are, in fact, without legal protection. Although many of the materials referenced here may be copied and used without copyright limitations, other legal restrictions (such as privacy or right of publicity) may apply and users of these sites should should factor that into their reasoning before moving forward with any subsequent use.
The Copyright Advisory Office does not guarantee copyright clearance to any media found on or through these sites, and assumes that developers and users of the databases have properly addressed any remaining copyright issues.
- General Repositories
- Books & Textual Materials
- Films & Video
- Digital Fine Art and Photography Digital Collections
- Licensed Image Repositories
- Major Art Databases
- Made in the USA
- Medical & Scientific Information
- Music & Sound Recordings
- Crowdsourced & User-Generated Content
Repository of collections of member libraries of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the University of California system, and the University of Virginia.
Archive of public domain material, such as moving images, music, audio and text, and the “Wayback Machine,” which can display past versions of websites.
Books & Textual Materials
Collection of literature, reference and verse.
Contains public domain works with some electronic versions containing special features that are useful for teaching and research.
Collection of books, magazines, and other written materials that have been scanned and made available online.
Collection of library and digital material from the Center for the Public Domain and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill that seem to further the teaching, research, or public service mission of UNC.
Created by the University of Michigan’s School of Information which offers over 20,000 online books, stories, essays, poems, articles, dramas, letters, and speeches.
Containing over 17,000 electronic texts from the University of Pennsylvania Library.
Collaborative effort of organizations from around the world building a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia material.
The first and oldest collection of free, electronic books and music searchable by author, title, subject and language.
Public domain films and royalty free stock footage that can be bought on DVD/VHS.
Directory of movies commonly thought to be in the public domain and works their owners are willing to let be distributed.
Contains an extensive list of sources to find image, clip art, icons and backgrounds.
Mix of old and new films. From the web site, "By providing near-unrestricted access to these films, we hope to encourage widespread use of moving images in new contexts by people who might not have used them before." Check individual videos for reuse rights.
This library contains thousands of digital movies uploaded by Archive users which range from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts. Many of these videos are available for free download.
You are warmly encouraged by the Prelinger Archive to download, use and reproduce the (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films provided, in whole or in part, in any medium or market throughout the world. You are also warmly encouraged to share, exchange, redistribute, transfer and copy these films, and especially encouraged to do so for free.
Cross Collection Discovery provides a way to search across Yale’s collections of art, natural history, books, and maps, as well as photos, audio, and video documenting people, places, and events that form part of Yale’s institutional identity and contribution to scholarship. Not all content available through Discover Yale Digital Content is unrestricted. Please refer to the rights information in the record for each item.
Over 82,000 images from the collections of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor are accessible through the Museum’s ImageBase feature. Images are searchable through a general search engine, and the ImageBase includes a detail feature allowing users to zoom in on any image. The site also provides a “My Gallery” feature through which registered users can build an unlimited number of online galleries that can be publicly shared or kept private.
The Granger Collection, brings together the people, places, things, and events of the past 25,000 years in every form of graphic expression (save film footage) and has grown to more than six million black-and-white prints, photographs, and color transparencies.
LACMA has made available more than 20,000 downloadable images of artworks, from ancient sculpture to modern paintings, from its collection that it believes to be in the public domain in a searchable database that can be filtered to only list “unrestricted images.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Collection database offers over 130,000 images from the Museum’s permanent collection, categorized according their department within the Museum. The “My Met Gallery” feature allows registered users to create their own personal online galleries of images. The Museum also makes available a number of high-resolution digital images to the scholarly community for specific educational uses, which are distributed through the Images for Academic Publishing service of ARTstor.org.
MFA Images has historical portraits, examples of different art movements, images of objects from numerous cultures, and illustrations that span the Museum’s collection. Images can be used for personal enjoyment or licensed for reproduction.
The Image Library contains pictures from the: National Museum of Scotland; National Museum of Rural Life Scotland; National War Museum Scotland; National Museum of Flight Scotland; and the National Museum of Costume Scotland.
The Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 685,000 images digitized from The New York Public Library’s collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, and photographs. Images can be browsed by subject matter and the gallery also provides advanced search features.
Using a similar interface as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Walters allows users to download high quality digital images of exhibitons, along with conservation and exhibtion histories.
AP Images, a division of the Associated Press with and archive with millions of images in entertainment, sports, news, archival and creative content. It also gives you access to photo and video crews who will create the content based on your needs.
The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) has a helpful image search broken down by type of image. Topics include: sport; celebrities; social documentary; natural world; and architecture.
The PLUS Coalition is an international non-profit organization that aims to simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights through technology.
The site has galleries of online exhibitions of specific artists, movements, and the Artchive’s recent acquisitions. The “Artchive Tours” section offers a “Favorites” tour, introducing viewers to over 2,000 images from 200 different artists. The site’s image viewer feature allows users to resize images and zoom in on image details up to 200%.
Artcyclopedia functions as a conduit to fine art resources on the web, containing over 140,000 art-related links that are searchable by artist name or nationality, artistic movement, title of the work, subject matter, and medium. Search results typically lead the user to the work’s home institution. Additional searching within the individual museum website may be required.
ARTstor is a digital library of more than one million images in the areas of art, architecture, the humanities, and social sciences that are available for non-commercial teaching, research, and educational purposes. Access to ARTstor is provided to individuals affiliated with participating institutions, and, when the subscribing institution supports such access
Art Images for College Teaching houses approximately 300 images, all photographed by website author Allan T. Kohl. Though textual information on the images is sparse and many images are in black and white, the site provides a solid and basic introduction to many iconic images in the study of art history. A unique feature is the site’s “Textbook Concordance,” which provides an index of the images according to their references in commonly used art history textbooks.
Art Resource holds more than 400,000 searchable fine art images and over three million transparencies and black and white photographs of works of painting, sculpture, architecture and the minor arts. The objects are cross-referenced by subject, title, artist, period, place, and medium.
Olga’s Gallery began as an online art encyclopedia to help children learn about art history. The site contains over 10,000 images, largely devoted to European and American works. Images are indexed by artist, country, and movement. The site also offers extensive biographies for featured artists.
The Web Gallery of Art is a virtual museum containing over 22,000 images, focusing on European painting and sculpture from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic, and Realism periods. Users can search by artist name, and a generalized search engine option is also available. The site offers picture commentaries, artist biographies, and guided tours.
A searchable database of images, including some maps, relating to Alaska’s volcanoes. Most images are free for use. Check each image for any constraints on use and instructions for citing the photographer.
Repository created by the Library of Congress of written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music materials documenting the American experience.
Public domain military photos from the Department of Defense. Keyword searchable and browseable by many topics including: holidays, competitions, weapons systems, humanitarian aid, specialized vehicles and more.
NASA Images was created through a partnership between NASA and the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco, to bring public access to NASA’s image, video, and audio collections in a single, searchable resource. The site contains everything from classic photos to educational programming and HD video.
Over 10,000 photos, mostly nature and weather related. Public domain, but credit must be given to photographers. Collections may be searched or browsed. High resolution versions are available.
Many, but not all are in the public domain. May be searched or browsed. Rights restrictions noted in photograph record.
These recordings are approved by the Department of the Air Force for use in public service broadcasting, recruiting, educational activities, troop morale and retention." Songs are categorized by: Patriotic, Ceremonial, Marches, Popular & Show Songs, Rock / Pop / Country / R&B, Holiday, Choral, Classical, Jazz, Traditional / Celtic / Folk.
All information on this site is considered public information and may be distributed or copied freely except where otherwise noted.
US Fish & Wildlife Reserve Digital Library
Collection of various Alaska scenes and wildlife taken by federal Fish and Wildlife Service Photographers and which the agency states is public domain.
US Geological Survey Multimedia Gallery
These images provide a visual history of the discovery, development, and sciences of the United States and its Geological Survey. Some photographs have been used in USGS publications, but most have never been published. All photographs within this collection are public domain; therefore, signed releases, permissions, and payment for use or reproduction are not required. Credit to individual photographers is requested.
US Government Photos and Graphics
A directory of links to public domain images and graphics from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the photo galleries of the Library of Congress, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Park Service.
US Marine Band Web Exclusives
US Navy Band Sounds Online
Patrotic and holiday music. Some vocal music.
Videos from the US Government
Most of these videos are available for use in the public domain, and you may use and reproduce them without permission or fee. However, some videos may be protected by license.
White House Photos & Video
Photographs and videos provided by the White House.
Materials on this Web site were produced and/or compiled by the Canadian Space Agency for the purpose of providing Canadians with direct access to information about the programs and services offered by the Government of Canada. Information on this site has been posted with the intent that it be readily available for personal and public non-commercial use and may be reproduced, in part or in whole and by any means, without charge or further permission from the Canadian Space Agency. Citation may be requested.
The Medical Heritage Library is a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries. The collection resides at the Internet Archive.
A resource to assist academics negotiating copyright issues relating to the use of medical images, the Weill Cornell Medical College Library provides links to sources of medical images organized according to their level of usage restrictions.
An image database of the Wellcome Library’s history of medicine collection comprised of over 40,000 images that are freely available to download for personal use or study, and academic teaching. The site contains both historical and contemporary images on themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science.
Part of the Public Domain Information Project and a reference site identifying public domain songs and public domain music.
Royalty-free sound effects. Everything from Aliens to Zebras.
Non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community.
A repository for web-based source code, where software developers can control and manage free and open source software development.
Resource created by the Military Open Source Software Working Group to promote the use and creation of open source software in the US Department of Defense.
Association of various organizations that advocate the use of free and open-source software in the US Federal government.
Creative Commons Search utilizes the Creative Commons-enabled search services at Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, and other search engines to locate images that are free to share or build upon. The search feature also can be filtered to return material that is usable for commercial purposes.
Many of the images on Flickr have been added with a Creative Commons license, making them easily available for many uses, especially noncommercial uses of higher education. To search only for Creative Commons images, visit the web address noted above and conduct your search within each form of the CC licenses.
The Commons, not to be confused with the Creative Commons mentioned above, was launched in January 2008 as a pilot project in partnership with the Library of Congress. Other participating institutions include the Getty Research Institute, the National Media Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution. Within The Commons, participating institutions contribute content from their collections under the usage guideline “no known copyright restrictions”.
Wikimedia Commons is a database of nearly 5 million freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute. Content is searchable and organized according to media type, image source, topic, author type, and copyright status, such as Creative Commons license or public domain.
It goes without saying that this list is by no means exhaustive, but, as there are links to a few sites that offer professional services, we want to make it clear that their appearance on this list should not be construed as an endorsement on the part of this office or Columbia University.
Most Recent Revision: 042213
When making use of this page under the terms of the CC license, please include this form of attribution: "Used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director." If your needs for the material are outside the scope of the license, please consider fair use or simply asking us for permission.