Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

How To Find Public Domain Works To Record


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

May 9, 2011

Comments (6)

Man's hand holding a CD with a C for copyright on itHow do you know if you can record a published work or if it is off limits?

Most talent are aware of copyright issues but not all are confident in identifying which pieces of copy are safe to record without acquiring a license or paying royalties.

In today's VOX Daily, we're going to explore ways to determine what copy is available to you in the public domain when recording voice over demos or audiobooks.

What is Public Domain?

When it comes to playing it safe as a voice talent making audio recordings to promote your voice (demos) or sell a product as an independent publisher, it's important to understand copyright and also be able to distinguish between copy that is or is not currently in the public domain.

Public domain works include anything published before 1923. These works may include music, poetry, literature and so on.

Something else that constitutes qualification for public domain is the number of years that have passed since an author's death.

Here is a quote from Brad Templeton's essay, A Brief Intro to Copyright:

Some Legal Basics

"Under the Berne copyright convention, which almost all major nations have signed, every creative work is copyrighted the moment it is fixed in tangible form. No notice is necessary, though it helps legal cases. No registration is necessary, though it's needed later to sue. The copyright lasts until 70 years after the author dies. Facts and ideas can't be copyrighted, only expressions of creative effort."

Quotation from "A Brief Intro to Copyright" by Brad Templeton

Copyright Myths

Along the same vein, Templeton has an article on his site that discusses 10 big myths about copyright and goes on to explain things that might be surprising to many people within the industry.

One of these debunked myths has to do with how a company won't care if you use their copy and so on because they'll just see it as free advertising. This is a huge problem in our industry as a large number of people tend to dismiss copyright based upon the false belief that no one cares or that they (the person whose copy is being used) will be appreciative of the additional promotion.

Copyright Law May Vary

Keep in mind that each country (even state or province) has its own policies for copyright and it is prudent to be aware of copyright laws concerning the material.

Also take note of the potential of copyright extension and how that might affect works you were hoping to use in a demo or otherwise.

The Copyright Term Extension Act was passed in 1998 in the United States and extended copyright terms by 20 years. It used to be that 50 years after an author's death or 75 years after publication date (whichever came first) constituted as their work belonging to the public domain, however based upon the CTEA, an author's work would only be made available in the public domain either 70 years after their death or 95 years after the publication date (whichever comes first).

Another interesting fact is that corporate authorship, let's say Disney's Mickey Mouse for instance, enjoys 120 years copyright protection after creation or 95 years after its publication, whichever date comes first.

So, Where Can You Find Public Domain Copy?

Project Gutenberg does a great job in presenting public domain material and posts the texts verbatim on their site. You can search through 33,000+ public domain ebooks in a number of ways, including:


In addition to being able to download free ebooks, you can volunteer in their community as a proofreader and also get connected to LibriVox.org and volunteer to record audiobooks regarding publications in the public domain.

Any Thoughts?

I'd love to hear what you think about what you've read. Also, I'd like to hear from those outside of the US pertaining to how copyright terms work in your country.

Share your thoughts as a comment on this article and join the conversation!

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Jim Jurica

Related Topics: audiobooks, copy, copyright, demos, Disney, how to, industry, material, narration, public domain, text, United States


    Stephanie, a question. I have a text first published by the original author in the late 1800s. It is clearly beyond the timeline you listed. However, the text I have is in a book published in 1990. The book is copyrighted. How do the rules apply?

    Posted by:
    • Rob
    • May 10, 2011 8:51 AM


      Today's Vox was an interesting take on copyrights of written materials. Thank you for covering a topic that is oft misunderstood.

      I have read that even though a written work may be in the public domain in its original language, a translated version has its own time limitations. Obviously, a newer translation would once again reset the access clock. It's important to know the source of the translation when you are considering using text for your production (commercial or not).

      Si Hawk

      Posted by:

        Hi Rob,

        Thanks for commenting! That's a great question. I'm not a copyright lawyer so I can't provide you with a definitive answer, but based upon what you have shared, it would appear that if you were to use the text from the publication from 1990 you might face some issues with copyright. If you were to use the text from the 1800s, I expect you'd be fine :) Please do check with someone who is more knowledgeable though.

        Best wishes,


        Posted by:

          The attorney for my newspaper would disagree with Myth #5. He advised me to formally notify people or companies infringing on my content as soon as I became aware of the infringement. He said that knowing and not acting gives tacit approval to the use of the content.

          Good post, though...too many people do not understand that don't automatically have the right to use a commercial they make for XYZ company in their demo.

          Posted by:
          • steve hammill
          • May 10, 2011 11:58 AM

            Thank you for sharing your insight, Si! I am grateful that you added this to the conversation.

            Best wishes,


            Posted by:

              I've always wondered, what about using "submitted auditions" on our demos? Like auditions we've done for other clients, but didn't get the job? Is it ok to use that material on a reel?

              Posted by:
              • Laci
              • May 13, 2011 1:03 PM

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