Works enter the public domain after ... years from publication. But most software these days is not sold but "licensed" (per EULA). So the recipient never received said "software", he's just using someone else's work (kind of like me using Google search, its code never enters the public domain).

Does that mean that code is considered to have never been "published"?

4 Answers 4


Works enter the public domain after ... years from publication.

In the United States, this is incorrect for some works and incomplete for the rest. Currently, most works are copyrighted for the life of the author plus 70 years; publication date doesn't affect the copyright term. Works made for hire (such as code written for Google by an employee), anonymous works, and pseudonymous works are copyrighted for 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation, whichever is shorter.

  • This answer doesn't address the crux of the question, which is asking whether licensed software is ever "published" for the purpose of determining its copyright term.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 17:31
  • In practice that would be "95 years after publication" except for work that was created and never published (I have created some works for hire that will never be published because the company changed directions).
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 17:40
  • @phoog That wasn't the crux of the question. The crux of the question, helpfully contained in the title, is whether software would ever enter the public domain. Whether licensed software was ever "published" only mattered because the asker incorrectly thought publication was required for the copyright term to start running. The fact that it isn't actually answers the question asked.
    – cpast
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 21:12
  • @cpast but the logic behind the thought that software might never enter the public domain is helpfully contained in the last paragraph of the question body: 'Does that mean that code is considered to have never been "published"?' And as your answer notes, the date of publication isn't irrelevant for a work made for hire. Also, since the question invokes Google, there's another angle that none of the answers has addressed: the difference between software that resides entirely on a private server and that which is installed on or downloaded to a public user's computer.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 21:26
  • @phoog Right, the publication question is in there, but it's a side question. It is not the main question, or the crux of anything. Also, my answer does address the main question as far as Google goes: all software will enter the public domain, because there is always a timer that doesn't depend on publication. I'd also add that the question doesn't ask when software enters the public domain, just if. Publication is in fact irrelevant for if.
    – cpast
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 21:29

Publication is to make content available to the general public. It doesn't matter if this is done by sale, lease or licence.

Copyright expires a given number of years after creation - publication is irrelevant.

  • Publication is not always irrelevant. It's relevant in a work for hire, which licensed software is very likely to be.
    – D M
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 3:08

In the UK, works for hire have copyright for life of author + 70 years. The work that I'm working on right now has several creators of different ages so most likely the copyrights will run out bit by bit over time. Not that it matters much to me (and you) because I'll be dead for 70 years or more when it happens, and that's also 70 years time for laws to change.


Software and literature along with media are different. the public domain is and has be well established for these works for much time. The software side of things has changed and morphed over the years. I do remember reading that software that has not been updated (old software that has not been manipulated or updated by the creator or owner (basically abandoned or abandoned ware) for the period of 20 years are open to the public. But now that has been changed and it is hard to find that original ruling and context. Especially now with people using roms or old software from over 20 years ago. The companies that hold the updated license are trying to change that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .