INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Works of public domain

The works of public domain These are those whose exploitation rights have been extinguished and which, therefore, can be freely used by any person without having to ask for permission or pay the original holder.

However, the authorship and the integrity of the original work must always be respected, in the terms set out in the sections sections 3r and 4t of article 14 of the Intellectual Property Law:

  • The condition of the author of the work must be recognized, citing it correctly.

  • The integrity of the work must be respected and to prevent any deformation, modification, alteration or attempt against it that would be detrimental to its legitimate interests or undervalued to its reputation.

The exploitation rights of the work last, in general (original literary, artistic or scientific creations), up to 80 years after the death of the main and secondary author (translators, illustrators ...), if this occurred before the December 7 of 1987, or Up to 70 years in the case of deaths subsequent to this date [Chapter I and Fourth transitory provision of the Intellectual property law].

Since the period of 70 years can not be applied until the year 2058 (1988 + 70 = 2058), the date of 2020 are books of public domain those whose authors died before 1940 (2020-80 = 1940).
  • The term of protection begins counting from January 1 of the year following the death or death declaration.
  • It should be kept in mind that this calculation should be done both with the main authors of the work and with the secondary ones that have made it possible to edit them (translators, illustrators, reviewers, authors of notes or interpretations ...) . Therefore, it is often the case that the original text of a work is only of public domain, not the one of the later editions where a new work of layout, revision, etc. has been made.

General length of rights: aspects to be taken into account

Posthumous, pseudonymous or anonymous works

70 or 80 years since its licensed disclosure (according to it, it is prior to or after the 7 of December of 1987).

The term of protection begins to count from January 1 of the year following the one of the first lawful disclosure. If before the end of this term the author is known, the provisions of the previous point will be applicable.

Works in collaboration

The rights of works resulting from the unitary collaboration of several authors, will last a lifetime of co-authors and 70 or 80 years after the death or death declaration of the last surviving co-author (depending on whether it is prior to or after 7 December of 1987).

Without prejudice to what is agreed between co-authors, they may exploit their contributions separately, except if this harms the common exploitation. Intellectual property rights on a work in collaboration correspond to all co-authors in the proportion that they determine.

Collective works

70 or 80 years after the licensed disclosure of the protected work (according to it, it is prior to or after the December 7 of 1987).

Collective work is created as created by initiative and under the coordination of a natural or legal person, who publishes and discloses it under his name, and is constituted by the meeting of contributions of various authors whose personal contribution is based on a unique and autonomous creation (without it being possible to attribute separately to any of them a right over the whole work).

Computer programs

If the author is a natural person, the general rule of 70 / 80 years after his death is applied.

On the other hand, if the author is a legal entity, 70 / 80 years must be counted from 1 January of the year following the first legal disclosure or creation thereof (if this has not been disclosed).

The general term of protection of exploitation rights may vary with specific types of works, such as sound recordings, audiovisual productions or photographs:

Type of work Duration of operating rights
Musical compositions with lyrics 70 anys from the death of the last surviving author (author of the lyrics or author of the musical composition) (art. 28 LPI).
Recordings of artistic interpretations and musical executions publicly or legally communicated to the public, by means of a phonogram 70 anys after the date of the first publication or legal communication (art. 112 LPI)
Phonograms published or communicated publicly during the 50 years after their recording

70 anys after the first publication or legal communication to the public (art. 119 LPI).

Audiovisual productions 50 anys from January 1 the following year to the production, although it is also necessary to make the corresponding calculation for the exploitation rights of the production author (director, screenwriter ...) (art. 125 LPI).
"Original Photographs" 70 or 80 years from the author's death (according to the previous or later 7 1987 December)
"Nice photos" Photographs that are not "original" from an artistic point of view ("mere photographs") are only protected during 25 anys from January 1 the following year to the creation of photography (art. 128 LPI).

Intellectual property rights are territorial in nature, that is, each country regulates them with their laws and only guarantees their protection within their own borders. As set forth in the199 article of the Intellectual Property Law (LPI):

Applicable protection Nationality of the authors
Spanish legislation

Spanish and national authors from other EU member countries.

National authors of countries not members of the EU, with habitual residence in Spain.

National authors of countries not members of the EU, who do not have their habitual residence in Spain. This protection only covers works published for the first time in Spanish territory or during the 30 days after they have been published in another country. The Government, however, may restrict this principle in the case of national foreigners of states that do not sufficiently protect the works of Spanish authors in analogous cases.

Protection collected at international agreements and treaties in which Spain is a part

National authors from third countries.

In the absence of agreements and treaties, the authors will be equated with Spanish authors when they are also nationals in the respective country.

Protection granted to the country of origin of the work, without, in any case, being able to exceed the period provided for in the LPI

Works whose country of origin they agree with Berne Convention a third country and whose author is not a national of a member state of the EU.

There are several interfaces with which to calculate what works become public domain according to the corresponding legislation:

REBIUN Table of copyright duration which facilitates the calculation of the date of term of these rights according to Spanish legislation, as well as the aspects to be taken into account according to the type of document that you want to use.
National Library of Spain List of Spanish authors who have works in their background that are already in the public domain.
Europeana Public domain calculator, an interface that covers the various European legislations (including Spanish)

In relation to the public domain of digitalis works of public domain, it must be taken into account that:

  • Only works of the public domain are original works, not derivative works or subsequent editions of them (which represent a new translation, revision, layout, etc., and which, therefore, have a new holder of Copyright).
  • Article 129.2 of the LPI It establishes that publishers of works in the public domain enjoy the exclusive right to authorize the reproduction, distribution and public communication of the aforementioned editions whenever they can be individualized by their typographical composition, presentation and other editorial features.
  • Therefore, if you want to use a digitized public domain work, you must be very sure if this file is a mere mechanical reproduction of the original work (which would not grant any right of protection) or if This is a new edition with its own editorial features. In this last case and without prejudice to existing legal exemptions, the new holder of exploitation rights should be requested to be able to use the work.
You can find more information about documenting historical documents on the blog Legally.

There are several reservoirs and search engines that offer, partially or totally, the digital reproduction of works of public domain:

In order to recover public domain works in each repository or website, you must apply the limits of each interface.

In order to facilitate this recovery, Creative Commons, with the support ofEuropeana, it promotes to mark them as it is detailed in its web "Public Domain Mark".

More information



Last update: 07 / 02 / 2020