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Public Domain in Mexico and Other Curiosities

Public domain refers to the legal status of all works whose copyright, except for moral rights, has expired and, therefore, can be used directly without the need to ask for permission from the owners or heirs.

When do works enter the public domain?

The question usually is when works enter the public domain. And here things get interesting because there isn't a single, universal term in all countries, and indeed, over the years these terms have changed globally or country by country, with some changes being retroactive and others not.

In general, and as established by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the current minimum term would be 50 years, but each nation can, if it wishes, extend these terms.

That's why we find quite extreme cases, reaching countries with 100% more years of protection.

The Case of Mexico Versus Other Nations

In Mexico, works enter the public domain 100 years after the death of their author or the date they were disclosed, in the case of posthumous works. This period is one of the longest in the world. Moreover, determining whether a work is in the public domain is more complicated since there have been different terms of protection throughout Mexico's history, including periods of 20, 25, 30, 50, 75, and 100 years, depending on the time and the nature of the work.

On the contrary, there are countries where the term for a work to enter the public domain is 50 years after the author's death. Some examples include Canada, El Salvador, and Panama. In these countries, attributable works enter the public domain 50 years after the authors' deaths.

For the United States, works published between 1926 and 1963 with renewed rights enter the public domain 95 years after publication; in other cases, 70 years after the author's death. Finally, in Spain, the works of authors who died before December 7, 1987, enter the public domain 80 years after their death, and for those who died after that date, the term is 70 years.

The Challenge

Determining which works are in the public domain can be a real challenge, especially because something might be in the public domain in one country but not in another. That is, if a work enters the public domain after 50 years in Canada, it will only do so 50 years later in Mexico. So, can we be certain that, if the author died 100 years ago, it's definitely in the public domain? Well, not exactly, because as we mentioned, in Mexico, for example, the period from the moment of disclosure applies in the case of posthumous works.

Not only that, typically translations or modern editions of works whose original version is in the public domain may be subject to copyright, so what can be used will be, in any case, the original work, which may be works published 100 years ago or more.


The public domain is the longest period in the life of a work, but it does not begin until several decades after the author's death or the publication of the work. This domain is vast, but sometimes very difficult to define or understand how one can use or access it, therefore it is important to improve its functionality. It is always advisable to consult with experts or to have clear the dates and editions of the works, so, depending on the legislation, one knows how to act in each case.


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