IMAGES IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN EXPLAINED
Images or other artworks in the public domain are those that have no more exclusive intellectual property rights. They still have copyright as someone created them and this lasts forever unless the copyright is transferred, which is not allowed in some countries. Van Gogh is the copyright author of his works, although his intellectual rights are no more exclusive to him or descendant member. This happens because depending on the countries and their legislation intellectual property rights have an expiry date.
For example, in all the countries of the European Union the artistic creation enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. At that point, the intellectual property rights are waived and everybody has the right to use the image in any way if it does not clash with other rights like Trademarks, Property Rights or any other right that may prevent the free use of the image.
As an example, if an artist created a poster for Coca-Cola in 1890 and died in 1910 that piece of Art entered the Public Domain that means that nor the descendants of the artist could not more prevent the free usage of that work. But Coca-Cola is a trademarked good , so that work could not be used commercially without the authorization of the beverage company, as it would infringe trademark laws. That doesn’t mean that the image could not be used without the consent of the multinational company, as there are usages that do not need that consent like “Fair Use” “Editorial use-newsworthy usage-” “Research and educational uses” that are usually part of the “fair use” exception.
So as you can see even if images are in the Public Domain that does not mean that they can be used in any kind of scenario as other protections rights may apply.
But not only time is the unique condition that a piece of artwork enters the Public Domain. They can also enter this category if the exclusive rights have been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. Some authors create their works and offer them to the Public Domain and so renounce to their exclusive intellectual rights over their creations. Other times there are Public Organizations that release their work to the Public Domain as soon as they are created, like stills and videos from NASA or other governmental organizations.
It is important to always check and secure authorization of the author of every piece of artwork if it is still not in the Public Domain. Historicalimages.net checks every image origin to see if intellectual rights still apply. We source our Public Domain from reliable fonts before exposing those in our website. We also don’t offer them automatically for commercial use unless we know what kind of usage will be given to be able to investigate if some other right might prevent for such a commercial usage.
If you are interested in learning more about Public Domain images, we suggest the following links where the information is more extensive than in this brief introduction: