Making Money with the Public Domain

Public Works Domain

Indiana Jones, Treasure Hunting, and the Lost Dogs…

Let’s talk about making money online in a simpler manner.

Picture a scenario where most of the hard work is already done for you, allowing you to quickly realize the value of what you possess.

However, to truly explore this topic, let’s rewind back to the year 1981.

In 1981, the movie “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark took the world by storm.

This collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg became a massive success, grossing over $367,452,079 worldwide.

But what made this film so beloved and enduring?

Perhaps it was the captivating storytelling, the stellar cast, the intricate production design, or the iconic music.

Or maybe, at its core, the appeal lay in the thrill of a treasure hunt.

We all have a fascination with the idea of embarking on an adventure and discovering something unexpected and immensely valuable.

Whether it’s the allure of lost treasures, like in shows such as Pawn Stars or The Curse of Oak Island, or the timeless appeal of classic tales like Treasure Island, the concept of finding hidden riches resonates deeply with us.

And now, I am thrilled to share with you a real-life treasure hunt in the realm of the Public Domain.

The world of public domain, creative commons, and uncopyrighted content is a treasure trove waiting to be explored and capitalized on by those with the drive and ingenuity to do so.

Through the following series of sections, I will guide you on this exciting journey of discovery and opportunity.

So what ARE these lost dogs?

Today I want to really dive into what exactly these 4 types of assets are. 

In future sections, we’ll be talking about where you can find them and how you can use them for profit, but for now…

…I really want to focus on what exactly we are talking about.

Let’s take this one at a time:

1. Public Domain

A term used to describe material that is not protected by copyright laws or other restrictions and can be freely copied, shared, edited, and reprinted by anyone.

The Bible is an example of a work that is in the public domain because it was written before copyright laws were in place.

Other examples include Moby Dick, works that were published prior to March 1, 1989, without a copyright notice, works that were dedicated to the public domain, and works whose copyright protection has expired.

Now, I know that the March 1st, 1989 thing is a little confusing.  The thing about copyrights is that rules for them have changed over the years. 

Let me give you a brief rundown of the way it currently is now.

Keep in mind these rules will vary a little depending on what country we are talking about.  It’s up to you to look up the rules for the country you are dealing with. 

For a simple point of reference, I will be talking about rules in the United States here.

A) The work is in the public domain if it was published in the United States before 1927.

B) For works released between 1927, and March 1, 1989, it depends on whether specific legal requirements were met, such as giving a copyright notice or renewing the copyright in accordance with the correct method.

  • The work is in the public domain if it was published without notice, in the United States between 1927 and 1978. (Note: If notice is included with the work published within this time, it may be protected for 95 years starting from the date of publication.)
  • The work is in the public domain if it was published without notice in the United States between 1978 and March 1, 1989, and it wasn’t registered during the next five years. (Note: If a work published within this time period was registered but had no notice, it will be protected for 70 years after the author’s passing.)
  • If a work had a notice when it was published in the United States between 1927 and 1963, but the copyright had not been renewed, it is in the public domain.

 C) All works created after March 1, 1989, whether they have been published or not, are protected for 70 years after the author’s passing.

So, for instance, at the beginning of January 1, 2014, the unpublished works of an author who passed away in 1943 are in the public domain.

The copyright period for corporate authorship (i.e., works produced for pay) is the shorter of 95 years from the date of publishing or 120 years from the date of creation.

If you want further confirmation, the U.S. Copyright Office (copyright(dot)gov) is an excellent resource to use to find out if a book is in the public domain.

There, you may perform a database search for the book to see whether it is protected by copyright.

YIKES, that’s a lot of rules right?  Well, it’s actually a good thing.  We are talking about things that are free for ANYONE to use. 

So the more barriers to entry, the less competition you will be dealing with.

Dealing with all the weird little rules is part of the whole “treasure hunting” aspect of finding and taking advantage of these “Lost Dogs.”

Let’s move on…

2. Creative Commons

Everyone, from small businesses to major institutions, now has a standardized approach to offering the public permission to use their creative works in accordance with copyright laws thanks to Creative Commons licenses. The question of what you can do with a particular work is answered from the reuser’s point of view if a copyrighted work has a Creative Commons license.

There are 6 different creative commons licenses.  They are as follows:

  • CC BY: With the condition that credit is provided to the original author, the CC BY license permits reusers to distribute, remix, modify, and build upon the content in any media or format. Commercial usage is allowed under the license.
  • CC BY-SA: This license, known as CC BY-SA, permits reusers to share, remix, modify, and build upon the work in any media or format as long as credit is provided to the original author. Commercial usage is allowed under the license. If you remix, modify or build upon the work, you must provide the new work with the same license as the original.
  • CC BY-NC: This license permits noncommercial reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the work in any media or format as long as credit is provided to the original author. So no commercial use.
  • CC BY-NC-SA: This license permits reusers to share, remix, modify, and build upon the work for noncommercial uses only, as long as credit is provided to the original author. If you remix, modify or build upon the work, you must provide the new work with the same license as the original.
  • CC BY-ND: This license permits reusers to reproduce and distribute the content in any format or media as long as the original author is acknowledged. Commercial usage is allowed under the license.
  • CC BY-NC-ND: This license permits reusers to reproduce and distribute the content in any format or media in unaltered form solely for noncommercial purposes, as long as credit is provided to the original author.

So essentially, with creative commons licenses, you have limits on what you can do with these assets. 

They allow you to USE copyrightable material, which is pretty cool, but in varying degrees, depending on the license.

The important thing here if you are looking to make some money from these treasures, is to pay close attention to the accompanying license.

Let’s continue…

3. CC0 (No Rights Reserved)

The public can freely build upon, improve, and reuse the works without being constrained by copyright or database law thanks to CC0, which enables scientists, educators, artists, and other content creators and owners of copyright-ordatabase-protected content to waive those rights in their works.

CC0 (“no rights reserved”) is the alternative to Creative Commons licenses.  It empowers yet another choice entirely – the choice to opt-out of copyright and database protection, as well as the exclusive rights automatically granted to creators. This is in contrast to CC licenses, which allow copyright holders to select from a variety of permissions while maintaining their copyright.

You need to understand why CC0 exists in order to truly comprehend it. You know, it’s very hard for a writer to willingly donate their work to the public domain.

No laws exist that would allow them to give up their copyright.

“No rights reserved” is used in this situation.

To the utmost degree permitted by law, CC0 offers authors a means to completely relinquish all of their copyright and associated rights in their works.

Like many open source software licenses, CC0 is a generic instrument that is not tailored to the laws of any specific legal country.

Alright, just one more…

4. Non-Copyrightable Works

Works that are, by law, not able to be copyrighted.  The following items are never covered by copyright:

  1. works produced by the United States government (except under contract.)
  2. reproductions of public domain works (but a license may restrict use.)
  3. Ideas, common property, and facts (i.e., calendars and phone books)
  4. federal laws and judicial rulings
  5. names, phrases, slogans, and words (although they can be trademarked)
  6. most blank forms
  7. recipes, discoveries, procedures, and systems (but not the words that describe them. As in words that represent a form of expression)

Think about all the recipes out there that you can compile to create giant thematic recipe books. 

All are non-copyrightable because you cannot copyright mere listings of ingredients and basic cooking directions.

Think about how much people love factoid books like “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” annual series.  They sell millions of copies every year. 

All are based on simple factoids that are completely uncopyrightable. Anyone could compile a book like that.

PART 1: Where are they hiding?

Over the course of the next several sections, I want to reveal to you some locations where you can find some amazing public domain works. 

You can think of this as a sort of “Where are they hiding” Guide.

After that, we’ll be dealing with how to profit off this stuff, once you have located it, but for the next several emails, let’s exclusively deal with where you can find the goods.

NOTE: Whenever you see me referring to a reference website in these emails, generally it will be with a (dot) in the URL instead of actual dots. 

So all you need to do is replace the (dot) with an actual dot to make that URL active.

Alright let’s do this:

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 1

1. LOC

Today, I want to talk about the Library of Congress.  They have an entire section that contains millions of assets.  It’s called the “Free To Use” section. 

You can find it at: loc(dot)gov/free-to-use

The digital collections of the Library are represented in this gateway and are available for free use and reuse.

The Library assumes that the material is either in the public domain, has no recognized copyrights, or has been given the go-ahead for use by the copyright holder.

Each collection has a central focus.

These sets are just a tiny selection of the free-to-use and reuse digital materials available from the Library.

Millions of artifacts, including books, newspapers, manuscripts, prints and pictures, maps, musical scores, films, and sound recordings, are included in the archives.

Be sure to review the individual rights statements for these collections.

2. BibliOdyssey

This is a blog that focuses on obscure media. 

In fact, at the top of the homepage, it proudly reads: BibliOdyssey: Books, Illustrations, Science, History, Visual Materia Obscura, Eclectic Bookart.

You can find this resource at: bibliodyssey(dot)blogspot(dot)com

There are always interesting things being posted about on this blog.   However, the thing is…you have to really pay attention to copyright information here. 

Not everything posted is in the public domain.

3. Res Obscura

Another blog that focuses on obscure media.  If you visit Res Obscura, you will find the very top of the website to read, “Res Obscura: A Catalogue of Obscure Things.”

Much like BibliOdysee, this blog highlights obscure and old books, pieces of art, maps, and other interesting pieces of work.

You can find the blog at: resobscura(dot)blogspot(dot)com

Again, as with BlibliOdysee, pay attention to copyright details, as not everything posted is in the public domain. 

That being said, the pieces of content found and posted about on this website are profound.

4. Twitter Feed

The public domain may now be explored in novel ways thanks to social media.

There are now tweeters focusing on archives and history who draw attention to noteworthy works.

If you set up a #publicdomain feed on Twitter, you will be alerted when people tweet about interesting works entering the public domain. 

People are increasingly using this tag when tweeting about the public domain.

A similar tactic can be used with the Google Alerts tool.

5. The Open Knowledge Foundation

Public domain discussion mailing groups exist, and members often exchange messages about newly added works on these lists.

One of these mailing lists is hosted by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

You can find that here: lists-archive(dot)okfn(dot)org

It might take a little digging, but you’ll be surprised by what you can find in those archives.

PART 2: Where are they hiding?

We covered 5 interesting places to dig around and find great public domain resources.  All great and potentially profit-producing, but we are just getting started.

Now we are continuing on our journey with:

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 2

6. Europeana

An online resource for discovering Europe’s cultural assets.

It is now gathering enormous amounts of information about the material collections held by cultural heritage organizations throughout Europe.

Keep in mind, just because a work appears on Europeana doesn’t mean that it is in the public domain.

After conducting a preliminary search, you may utilize the “refined search” tool located beneath the search box on the left to conduct a “by copyright” search.

You can view materials published under open licenses, which are free for any use, by selecting the CCO option.

You may view all works released under a non-commercial license—use is limited to non-commercial purposes—by selecting CC BY-NC.

You can find this resource at: europeana(dot)eu/en

Back in 2012, Europeana actually released over 20 Million Cultural Objects into the Public Domain.

Let’s move on…

7. Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is an American digital library with the declared goal of “universal access to all information,” according to its website.

It contains millions of publications as well as websites, software programs/games, music, movies/videos, and moving pictures, all accessible to the general public for free.

You’ll also discover a remarkable selection of 78 rpm records and cylinder recordings, as well as a fantastic collection of ephemeral and public service films on a wide range of subjects, from how to be popular, to surviving a nuclear strike.

Not everything on this famous archive is in the public domain so pay attention to license information and copyright details. 

However, there is a ton that is in the public domain here. 

You can find this famous archive at: archive(dot)org

Let’s talk about the next one…

8. Wikimedia Commons

A storehouse of free pictures, audio, films, and other media. Moreover, JSON files are included. It is a Wikimedia Foundation initiative.

The repository has around 87 million free-to-use media files as of July 2022.

Geographicus, a company that sells maps, really gave an amazing collection of over 2000 high-resolution pictures from their library in 2011.

Every piece of work is in the public domain and is either published with a Public Domain Mark or a CC BY-SA license.

You can find this archive here: commons(dot)wikimedia(dot)org


9. Flickr: The Commons

The Smithsonian Museum, the Library of Congress, and other organizations have teamed up with Flickr to make millions of photographs available online in one location.

With this one, it’s important that we look at copyright restrictions here, because there is a nuance.  This is taken directly from Flickr’s website:

Under “The Commons,” cultural institutions that have reasonably concluded that a photograph is free of copyright restrictions are invited to share such photograph under their new usage guideline called “no known copyright restrictions.”

Photographs can be difficult to analyze under copyright law, not only because laws around the world differ with respect to scope and duration of protection, but because the photographs themselves often lack credit lines, dates, and other identifying information.

Libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions have a great deal of experience with photographs because they frequently collect, preserve, document, and study them in accordance with their nonprofit missions.

However, in many instances, a cultural institution will not be the rights holder under copyright law. Therefore, it can neither grant permission to others who wish to use a photograph nor provide a guarantee that the photograph is in the public domain.

Essentially, they are telling you that they believe these images are okay to use and are PROBABLY without copyright, but to be safe, always do your own research.

Either way, you view it, this is an amazing collection of images that are more likely than not, completely okay to use. 

Especially if you start looking at some clearly older stuff.

You can find Flickr Commons here: flickr(dot)com/commons

Let’s keep going…

10. Wikisource

A repository of free online publications that is updated regularly by the Wikipedia/Wikimedia community.

Along with several other language versions of the website, they have approximately 273,000 texts in their English language collection.

All user-contributed content on Wikisource is licensed under CC BY-SA unless otherwise stated.

Like with many of these resources, not everything published on this site is in the public domain.  Pay attention to licenses and copyright laws for individual works.

You can find this resource here: en(dot)wikisource(dot)org

PART 3: Where are they hiding?

We are digging a little deeper into places we could really find some interesting public domain works to use for our own nefarious purposes (lol kidding) but seriously…

We were looking at some pretty nice resources for finding great public domain works. 

Now, we are diving even deeper into invaluable places to find these hidden treasures…

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 3

11. Project Gutenberg

The goal of Project Gutenberg is to “promote the development and dissemination of eBooks” in addition to digitizing and archiving cultural works.

The first digital library of its sort, it was established in 1971 by American author Michael S. Hart.

Michael Hart actually invented the eBook by keying in a copy of the Declaration of Independence. That was the debut publication of Project Gutenberg.

It’s still accessible.  Publication number one.

Users in other countries should verify before reusing texts from Project Gutenberg since they contain works that are in the public domain in the United States.

You can find this resource at: gutenberg(dot)org

12. Open Images

Open Images provides online access to audiovisual archive content to encourage creative reuse.

The Open Images website’s content is accessible under Creative Commons licenses.

Authors, artists, scientists, and educators have the option to approach their copyright in a more flexible way and make their work accessible in a manner they decide.

So with Open Images, they deal quite a bit in Creative Commons.  So be sure that you understand the license of the particular work that you are wanting to use.

You can find this resource at: openimages(dot)eu

Next one…

13. Biodiversity Heritage Library

The largest open-access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives is the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

A number of natural history and botanical libraries have come together to create this enormous repository of information on the study of living things.

BHL does not ONLY publish works in the public domain.

And even if there is a ton of stuff in the public domain here, make sure to pay close attention to the dates when the content was created and respect copyright regulations.

You can find this amazing resource at: biodiversitylibrary(dot)org

Alright, moving on…

14. Pond5

A website established in New York that offers royalty-free material.

Stock footage, music, photographs, sound effects, After Effects templates, and 3-D models are all licensed by the company.

With more than 32 million clips, Pond5 is said to contain the greatest library of stock footage in the world.

Keep in mind here that Pond5 isn’t a 100% free resource.  Although they do have a free section that you can access, with an account.

You can find this resource at: pond5(dot)com/free

15. The Public Domain Review

The Public Domain Review is devoted to the investigation of intriguing and alluring works from the history of literature, art, and thought.

This website focuses on works that have entered the public domain, the huge pool of unprotected content that may be used, shared, and expanded upon without limitations by anybody.

You can find the PDR at: publicdomainreview(dot)org

PART 4: Where are they hiding?

15 resources down, and a bunch more to go, plus I want to give you some amazing ways to use all those goodies you find in the public domain. 

So let’s not meander around here. 

Let’s get right into it…

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 4

16. U.S. National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), the biggest biomedical library in the world, is a pioneer in research in biomedical informatics and data science.

There is a lot of stuff on this website.  Some of it is very old, and some of it much newer.  So it’s important to pay attention to dates here and observe copyright laws.

Any government-produced works accessible on the National Library of Medicine may be freely used or reproduced in the United States without authorization.

Please include the words “Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine” or “Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine” to indicate that NLM is the information’s original source.

When using NLM, you could come across written materials, images, or other information that has been donated to or licensed by private people, businesses, or organizations and may be covered by U.S. and international copyright laws.

Sometimes the copyright symbol, the name of the copyright holder, or the phrase “All rights reserved” will indicate if the work is copyrighted.

A copyright notice is not legally obligatory, though, thus not all copyrighted information is marked in this manner.

So again, be sure to look closely, and do your own research.  Don’t just assume things are in the public domain here, although many things are.

You can find the NLM at: nlm(dot)nih(dot)gov/digitalprojects

17. The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum, which connects people with artwork from civilizations all over the world and spans seven millennia, is one of America’s most unique institutions.

They feel that the museum’s audience is expanded by using digital photos of its collection.

Digital representations of works of art that are thought to be in the public domain are now freely usable and accessible thanks to this initiative.

The Walters adopted the Creative Commons Zero: No Rights Reserved or CC0 license to waive copyright and allow for the unrestricted use of digital images and metadata by any person, for any purpose.

This is because the Walters owns or has jurisdiction over the objects in its collection and owns or customarily obtains the rights to any imaging of its collection objects.

The GNU Free Documentation License governs the longer written descriptions of the artworks on this website.

Pretty amazing opportunity here.  You can find this collection at: art(dot)thewalters(dot)org

Next up…

18. University of Houston Digital Library

A comprehensive digital library for students, professors, and the general public.

Digital collections of items chronicling the University of Houston, the City of Houston, and the State of Texas, as well as other historically and culturally significant resources, are made available through the Digital Library and Audio/Video Repository.

There are numerous public domain works included here, similar to many of these digital archives, but not all of them are. So make sure to do your due diligence.

You can find this library here: digital(dot)lib(dot)uh(dot)edu

On to the next one…

19. Cornell University Library

More than 8 million printed books and more than 1 million eBooks are stored at CUL.

More than 90% of its 120,000 magazine publications are already accessible online.

That’s 90%.

There are numerous eBooks available there that are now in the public domain.

You can find this resource at: library(dot)cornell(dot)edu

20. California Digital Library

The University of California established the California Digital Library (CDL) in 1997.

It’s one of the largest digital research libraries in the world and was built in partnership with the 10 University of California Libraries and other partners.

Like many of these online archival libraries, there are things in this library that are NOT in the public domain and things that are. 

The burden falls on you to look through the collections and find the “Lost Dogs” of public domain greatness.

You can access this library at: cdlib(dot)org

PART 5: Where are they hiding?

We are going to do 30 of these resources in all.  So I’ll give you five more here.  And then I’ll give you the last five in part 6. 

After that, we’ll get into how to use this stuff to make money.

But for now, let’s get into these next ones…

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 5

21. Openverse

Openverse is a huge collection of free stock pictures, graphics, and music that boasts over 600 million works.

Every piece of Openverse content is either public domain or covered by a Creative Commons license.

You can find this resource at: wordpress(dot)org/openverse

22. Google Books

In addition to millions of free public domain books, Google also operates a paid bookshop that is a component of the Google Play ecosystem.

It has collaborated with university libraries throughout the globe to digitize all of its holdings.

You can access this resource at: books(dot)google(dot)com

23. HathiTrust Digital Library

With over 10 million titles available, the HathiTrust Digital Library is a pretty sizeable collaborative repository of digital content from over 90 research libraries.

This collection includes content that has been locally digitized by libraries as well as content that has been digitized through Google Books and the Internet Archive.

So it’s a lot.

You can access this expansive resource at: hathitrust(dot)org

24. Open Library

Many public domain, out-of-print, and in-print books are available online through Open Library in a variety of digital forms.

Over 3,000,000 books in the public domain and out of print are accessible online through this service.

You can access this resource at: openlibrary(dot)org

25. ManyBooks

More than 50,000 public domain books are available for free download on ManyBooks. The website is logically structured to make finding books as simple as possible.

You may search for any book using keywords, or you can browse the free books by category, title, and author.

Although this library is smaller, items are more easily found. When you start exploring this area, you never know what you’ll find.

You can find this resource at: manybooks(dot)net

PART 6: Where are they hiding?

No reason to beat around the bush here.  This section is about finishing out our “Where to find the public domain assets” guide. 

I wanted to give you 30 places in all that you could scour through and find some awesome stuff.

The Where Are They Hiding Guide to Public Domain: PART 6

26. Authorama

Free books from many different writers are available at Authorama. This is a fantastic place to start if you’re hunting for the classics.

It transforms books in the public domain from websites like Project Gutenberg into a format that can be read in a web browser.

You can find this resource at: authorama(dot)com

 27. ReadPrint

One of Time Magazine’s top 50 websites is Read Print. In addition to books, Read Print also offers articles, poetry, and short tales. 

You can view a list of all of the public domain works written by the top five writers on the website.

This website lives at: readprint(dot)com

28. Classic Literature

Public domain literature are very skillfully arranged into collections on Classic Literature’s site, including Classic Literature, Children’s Picture Books, British Authors, the complete works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, among many more.

You can access this resource at: classic-literature(dot)co(dot)uk

29. The Online Books Page

The University of Pennsylvania library hosts The Online Books Page, an index of e-textbooks that are accessible online.

It includes several features and lists over 3 million books.

You can find this resource at: onlinebooks(dot)library(dot)upenn(dot)edu

30. Manual Digitization

Currently there are over 130 million books in print, since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440. 

It is estimated that around 40 million of those books have been scanned and made available online.

However, quick trips to thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets will reveal a plethora of very old books that you can pick up for pennies on the dollar.

It’s not uncommon to run across a book that has fallen into the public domain and has not been digitized or made available online.  This is a great opportunity.

You can easily send that book to an online service called One Dollar Scan and they will send you a digital PDF of your book in return.

You can find it at: 1dollarscan(dot)com

Garage sales aren’t the only place to find these diamonds in the ruff though. 

If you take a quick trip over to a website called Alibris (alibris(dot)com) and do an advanced search…

…you can search for whatever subject you like by year.  All you need to do is search for your chosen subject and put in “before” 1923. 

This is going to pull back results that are pretty much 100% in the public domain.

Then go ahead and order the book.  Once you get it, have it digitized using a simple service like 1dollarscan, and BOOM goes the dynamite, you’re off to the races.

That is assuming of course the book is not already available digitally somewhere online.  If it is, everything becomes even easier, obviously.

And with that, I think you are now properly armed with the resources to go out there and find the diamonds in the ruff. 

You know where to find them, you know what to look for.

The rest is up to you.

Reflect on all these resources.  Dig around and see what you can find. 

You’ll be surprised at what is out there and available for anyone to just come along and use for their own purposes.

Adding your two cents…

The thing about public domain content is that it’s available to EVERYONE. 

So the question becomes, how can you take something that is available to anyone and make it unique?

You could add illustrations.  You could add commentary or annotations.  You could translate the work into a language it didn’t exist before. 

You could modernize the characters.   And that is only a few small ways…

Consider this small list of things that have been done to profit from public domain assets:

  • Creating a new book cover
  • Modernizing the story and/or characters
  • Creating an audiobook
  • Adding illustrations to a book that previously had none
  • Publishing direct quotes from the book
  • Creating an eBook
  • Creating supplemental worksheets or materials for the book
  • Translating the book into other languages
  • Simplifying the wording of the book
  • Writing a screenplay based on the book
  • Creating a children’s book from the storyline and/or characters

In all those cases, the point was always to add some new value to the existing work. 

By adding your “2 cents” to the public domain asset, you make it unique, but more than that, you give yourself an opportunity to allow people to see the existing work in a new light.

This can be very profitable.

Disney is a 184 BILLION dollar company.  Yet, many of their assets are based on characters and stories that were in the public domain.

Consider Aladdin.  Derived from a folk tale in One Thousand and One Nights.  That book was written in 1706.  Disney turned that story into a cool $504 million bucks!

What about Alice in Wonderland?  It was based on a book by Lewis Carol book from 1865.  Disney cashed in for a whopping $1.02 BILLION on that one. 

And they rebooted that sucker as well.  So double dipped and sequelled the heck out of that book that is in the public domain.

A Bug’s Life was taken from Aesop’s Fables.  Disney turned that into a $363.4 million cash cow.

Cinderella was taken from Charles Perrault’s Grimm’s Fairy Tails written in 1697.  Disney turned that into a cool $85 million plus a bunch of sequels.

I could go on and on with Disney.

Atlantis, Chicken Little, Christmas Carol, Fantasia…they all came from works that were in the public domain. 

Disney took them, put their own style on them, and utterly cashed in.

You could argue that Disney’s entire business is built on the back of public domain stories and characters.

How did they do it?  They took something and added their own 2 cents to it. 

Whether it was modernizing the characters, adapting styles, or changing narratives, Disney was up for it.

Many times they took very well-known characters and stories that were already loved by millions of people, so in that way, they road the celebrity of the original…

…and they endeared those stories and characters to new generations.  But you don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar company to make this happen. 

The fundamentals of what Disney did, can be used by anyone.

Step 1) Take an existing property in the public domain

Step 2) Add your own two cents to it in some way.  Add value to the thing that already exists. 

Disney didn’t just turn those stories into movies…

…they built entire franchises around those characters. 

But it all started with just taking something that already existed, was already great, and thinking about how they could add some value to it.

Golden Age Awesome…

From 1938 to 1956, comic books were really popular in America.  They actually got started a few years earlier in 1933, but they really started taking off in 1938. 

So they call this time between 1938 to 1956, the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Many of the early comic book companies from the Golden Age went out of business, and the copyrights on their characters and stories were not renewed. 

This allowed them to fall into the public domain.

There is a nice website called Public Domain Super Heroes (pdsh(dot)fandom(dot)com) that details and highlights a lot of these awesome characters that have fallen into the public domain.

Characters like Jim Randall, an office clerk who was taught “strange, secret exercises” by Atlas, the Greek God of Strength. 

Using these exercises, Jim Randall gains super strength.

Anyways, there is nothing stopping anyone from creating new stories about this character or even reviving old stories of this character. 

Reprinting those old comics, or even creating new ones.  Changing the character.  Whatever. 

You can do whatever you want with this asset because it’s in the public domain.

There are thousands of comic book characters and comic books that have fallen into the public domain. 

Think nobody cares about these “lost dog” comic book characters?

Michael Finn is a longtime comic fan and original art collector who decided in 2018 to create a self-published book featuring Golden Age Heroes in a new adventure.

The Liberty Brigade.  A 100-plus page graphic novel based on heroes and villains from the 1940s.  He ran a Kickstarter to fund the project. 

That Kickstarter campaign raised…wait for it…

  $35,784 bucks.  It was a smashing success.

Could you do something similar?

What about taking some of these old comic book stories, and bundling them into graphic novels, with nice introductions and some commentary? 

All digital to keep overhead low.

The sky is the limit when you are talking about professionally created stories and art, now free for you to do with as you will!

110k in Self-Publishing Profits…

Since 2013, Aaron Kerr has pocketed over $110k in royalties using public domain assets.  He’s used Amazon’s Kindle format to do it.

His strategy was simple.

Step 1) Look for public domain assets that are being sold ON kindle already, and selling well.

Step 2) Buy it, read it, and identify the problems

Step 3) Make it better

Aaron, started with a set of Anne of Green Gables.   He bought and downloaded a set for $1.99 on Amazon Kindle. 

He thought it was pretty good, but he identified some formatting issues he thought he could clean up pretty easily.

Another thing he did was utilize a free website called LibriVox (librivox(dot)org) which contains over 17,000 classic public domain audiobooks that you can download for free.

What he did was offer links to free audiobook versions of all the Anna of Green Gables when people purchase his set. 

He created a simple webpage with links to the audiobooks on Librivox.

Finally, he lowered his price below the work he was competing with.  They were selling for $1.99 so he set his price at .99 cents.

This strategy of scoping out public domain work that was already proven to sell on Amazon, and then making it better, was very lucrative for Aaron and he rinsed and repeated it to massive passive profits.

Now let me stop this story for a minute and point out a couple of things about the Kindle platform on Amazon (aka Amazon KDP.) 

Amazon has some rules around Public Domain publishing.  They are as follows, as taken from Amazon’s website:

“If a free version of a public domain title is available in our store, we will only publish a differentiated version. Differentiated works are original and must meet one or more of these requirements:

  • Translated: Original translations
  • Annotated: Original annotations (additional content like study guides, literary critiques, detailed biographies, or historical context)
  • Illustrated: 10 or more original illustrations relevant to the book”

So essentially, Amazon is telling you the same thing I have been telling you.  Find a way to add value to the existing work.

Could this be something that you could do as well?  You now have a simple blueprint for how it’s done.   The only real questions are:

  1. Does this sound fun to you?
  2. Do you have the ambition to take action?
  3. Can you adjust and not quit when things go sideways? (in business they always do)

If you answered yes to those questions, then I see no reason why you can’t make this happen!

The Overhaul…

I read an article a few years ago about a guy named Matt LaCLear who was a Real Estate Agent. 

Anyways, he decided he was going to publish a book for the other Real Estate Agents out there on sales.

He had an e-mail list of agents from a previous marketing job and figured that would give him a head start when it came to selling the book.

The only problem was, he either didn’t have time or didn’t feel like writing it.  So here’s what he did.

He went over to a website I actually mentioned in a previous email, alibris(dot)com, and looked for books that seemed relevant, sorting by year.

He found one called “Closing the Sale,” which was a book written in 1925 by J.C. Aspley that featured interviews with salesmen all around the country.

He ordered it and had it shipped right to his house.  Then he scanned it, making it a digital asset.  He then set about modernizing that digital asset.  For example…

He took a story about selling Model T’s and turned it into one about selling Lexuses.  He changed the phrase “cash register salesmen” into “computer salesmen.”

He changed the title from “Closing the Sale” to “No Holds Barred: Mugging Tactics for Today’s Real Estate Agent.”  That’s an interesting update.  Very eye-popping.

The point was, he wanted to take that old book which was full of great advice that was extremely evergreen and still very useful today and modernize it, adding his own two cents to it.

He went on to put together a captivating sales page with lines like “How can someone like you ever dare to thrive as a real estate agent?” and…

…even slapped a picture of a rugged-looking man on there that was supposed to represent the author, but was clearly NOT LaCLear (something about HIS picture actually producing fewer sales than the other picture lol.)

After that, he sent some emails out to that real estate list he had and the money began rolling in.  At $50 each, that book made him $15k in its first month.

Anyways, it was a simple strategy that he rinsed and repeated and…

And at the time of that article, simple little overhauled books were earning him $25,000 bucks a month.  Pretty awesome for not even having to really write anything.

I think the big obstacle here is that Matt LaCLear had an email list to sell that first book to. 

I know that after that first one, he was taking out simple google ads to sell the books.

Could you use a tool like Google Keyword Planner and figure out what kinds of problems people are looking for answers to? 

Things like “How to grow tomatoes in inclement weather” or one of the countless other problems people have been dealing with for decades.

Could you take that information, seek out some old forgotten public domain gold mine and OVERHAUL it as Matt did?  Could you make it your own and sell it?

Well, I know it’s 100% legal to do it.  I know that many people have done it before.  The only real question is…

Are YOU going to take action on it?

Memberships and Publishing?

You know, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about all the places you can find public domain resources and all the things you can do with this stuff once you find it. 


…I haven’t even really scratched the surface of it all.

There are currently thousands of films, television shows, books, music, news clips, photographs, radio broadcasts, etc. in the public domain and every year more join that list.

It’s a lot.  There are endless ways that this stuff can be used.  You have to remember the reason the public domain exists. 

It’s here to preserve and expand upon the culture of the entire human race.

It is here so we don’t forget who we are.  So, if you think about it, in finding ways to use this stuff, you are actually doing a great service to mankind in general.

Public Domain Movies (publicdomainmovies(dot)info) is a membership site that features public domain movies. 

You can purchase a monthly subscription, a yearly subscription, or a group subscription.

What’s stopping you from doing something like that?  Not much.

Retro Film Vault (retrofilmvault(dot)com) provides media buyers with high broadcast quality programming content. 

This is stuff that can be used in broadcast television, film projects, video streaming, distribution, public television, cable, etc.  They are positioned to sell to businesses.

They have over 44,000 titles and all of them are in the public domain.

Unsplash (unsplash(dot)com) houses over 3 million high-quality images and all of them are completely free to use for ANY purpose, commercial or otherwise. 

Unsplash makes money with native ads on its platform.

I could go on and on with all the businesses and people who have made and are making money currently with public domain assets. 

All of these emails, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that you can create entire books of sports stats, recipes, formulas…

Military manuals and Presidential speeches…

Facts and ideas alone are a gold mine.  They cannot be copyrighted.  That means you can create volume after thematic volume of factoid books. 

People love that kind of stuff.

Don’t even get me started on systems or software.  Speaking of software, be sure to check out the Free Software Foundation (fsf(dot)org.) 

It’s all out there, waiting to be capitalized on. 

The only real question is, what are you going to do with it all?  The sky’s the limit.

Take a day, and devise a plan to take advantage of a public domain asset.  How can you add your two cents to something and revive it in the world? 

Challenge yourself and see where it goes. 

Start a side hustle, knowing all the while you are preserving valuable assets and keeping them from being lost to time.

Happy Public Domain Day…

Did you know that January 1st is “Public Domain Day?”  I mean yeah, it’s New Year’s Day of course, and that’s the famous holiday but…

…also it’s Public Domain Day.   It’s an observance of when copyrights expire.  Every year hundreds of works enter the public domain on Public Domain Day.

On January 1st, 2022, Winnie-the-Pooh entered the public domain.  Crazy right? 

In 2023, the original versions of the first three books of The Hardy Boys enter the public domain.

In 2024, the original version of Mickey Mouse is going to hit the public domain.

It doesn’t end.  Every year new opportunities are presenting themselves in this lucrative market.

I wonder what you will do with all this information?  Maybe, just maybe…you might just start your very own…

…Lost Dog Revival!