The Public Domain, Its Importance and How to Identify works in the Public Domain in Nigeria.

The Public Domain comprises all the knowledge and information which the public can access and use for free. The Public Domain refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark or patent laws. In the specific content of copyright, such materials include books, pictures and audiovisual works – which do not have copyright protection and can be used without restriction such as the need to obtain permission from their authors or makers. 

It can also be described as consisting of innovative or artistic works belonging to the Public, Nobody owns the exclusive right, even the government. It belongs to everyone, You can use it to generate new works. The public domain enables us to preserve our Cultural Heritage as the Public Domain provides a historically developed balance to the rights of creators protected by copyright and it is essential to the cultural memory and knowledge base of our societies. 

The Public domain is important as it is the raw material from which we make new knowledge and create new cultural works. Much of the world’s knowledge – Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the paintings of Leonardo, Newton’s Laws of Motion – is in the Public Domain. Society constantly re-uses, reinterprets and reproduces material in the Public Domain and by doing so develops new ideas and creates new work. New theories, inventions, cultural works and the like are indebted to the knowledge and creativity of previous centuries.

How can we Identify works in the Public Domain?

Copyright law varies from country to country, and creative works can be in the public domain in one country, but not necessarily in another. This is mainly because the term copyright protection varies. In order to Identify works in the Public Domain in Nigeria, Understanding the Nigerian copyright law of 1970.

In Nigeria, copyright generally expires 70 years after the death of the author (or after first publication) for most works and 50 years after the publishing date for photographs and audiovisuals. But where the work is anonymous or pseudonymous, the copyright expires 70 years after first publication,  unless the author is revealed for the normal term which begins after the death of the author.

Here are some of the typical ways that work end up in the public domain:

1. The copyright has expired

2. The copyright owner dedicates the work to the public domain

3. Copyright law is not applicable to this type of work (example: short phrases, facts, theories, and public documents.) 

Generally, the mass of knowledge recorded over time is naturally in the Public Domain; copyright offers a necessary/justifiable and time-limited exception to this status. Copyright gives creators a time-limited monopoly regarding the control of their works. Once this period has expired, these works automatically fall into the Public Domain. 

The following are examples of creative works in the public domain 

  1. Cinematograph films or photographs  get into the public domain 50 years after first publication. An example are the images and videos taken during Nigeria’s Independence are in the public domain because they have existed for over 50 years after they have been published.
  2. Sound recordings enter into the Public Domain 50 years af ter its creation, an example is ‘EWO IJAMBA MOTO’ (1967) by King Sunny Ade as it has existed for over 50 years.
  3. Broadcasts enter in to the Public Domain 50 years after first taking place; an example is the Broadcast announcing Nigeria’s Independence by Sir Emmanuel Aghanjuebitsi Ewetan Omatsola (KSC, OON) (Oct 1, 1960, 12.00 am)
  4. Other works get into the Public Domain 70 years after the author’s death. ‘THE GRAMMAR OF THE YORUBA LANGUAGE’ by Samuel Ajayi Crowther (Died 1891). This means that the term starts counting only after the author’s death. This is irrespective of the date of publication.  Christopher Okigbo’s ‘THE LIMITS’ will be in the Public Domain in 2037 and indeed all of his works being that he died in 1967. Likewise, Chinua Achebe’s works will enter the public domain in 2083 being that he died in 2013.
  1. In case of governmental or corporative authorship, they enter into the public domain 70 years after first publication. It is important to state note that there is no copyright exemption for works made by or commissioned by the Nigerian Government.

However, Public Documents are exempted from the copyright and so are in the Public Domain, we should also note that NIGERIAN BANK NOTES’  are not available for the public to be Digitized freely. The Judgements of courts or tribunals are in the Public Domain (but not compilations and/or publications of such court judgements). Also, the Nigerian statutes and other legal instruments, e.g., the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 and the Nigerian Copyright Act are in the Public Domain.

Freedom of Panorama

Freedom of panorama (FOP) is a provision in the copyright laws of various jurisdictions that permits taking photographs and video footage. It also allows the creation of other images (such as paintings) of buildings, sculptures and other artworks which are permanently located in a public place, without infringing on any copyright that may otherwise subsist in such works and the publishing of such images.

Freedom of panorama in Nigeria is provided at item (d) of the Second Schedule (“Exceptions from copyright control”), stating that artistic works found in public places can be reproduced and the resulting copies distributed. 

This makes Monuments and artworks in public spaces belong to the General public. One more thing before I wrap up, any work outside the ones mentioned above falls under the Public Domain unless the purpose of use of the work is exempted from copyright restrictions. E.g. private use or use for research or news reporting. 


  1. Aderounmu Adewale Joshua says:

    Nice writeup. This is creative and educative.

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you found it useful

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