Though public domain materials are essentially owned by everyone, there are laws requiring people to cite the sources of public domain items they use. As I understand it, the laws vary between countries.

I'm curious about whether these laws are enforced. If someone published an ebook featuring a public domain image with no indication that it's public domain, let alone its source, who would bother suing that person? How frequent are such lawsuits, and what are typical penalties?

To condense this to a single question, I suppose I could just ask "Are such laws enforced?" A link to a reference that explores this topic more thoroughly would be even more helpful.

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    "there are laws requiring people to cite the sources of public domain items they use": Are you sure about that? Can you point to an example of such a law? It's true that this is generally good practice and may be ethically important, but I'm not aware of it being a legal requirement in any jurisdiction. Oct 19 '17 at 2:28
  • I have to run to work and don't won't be able to find a specific source until tomorrow. However, I've seen many Wikipedia image credits that claim you're required to post certain information, even for public domain images. I keep track of my sources, because it's a good practice. But I just wondered if it's really a legal requirement. I'll take another look tomorrow. Oct 19 '17 at 2:36
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    Maybe you want to rephrase your question to ask whether it's a legal requirement, rather than taking for granted that it is. My feeling is that Wikipedia image credits are probably not a good source of legal advice. You probably ought to specify a jurisdiction, too; we can't practically answer a question about all the many hundreds of jurisdictions in the world at once. Oct 19 '17 at 2:39
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    There are many circumstances (e.g. academic papers, Wikipedia) where establishing the source of public domain works and crediting them is necessary and failure to do so has serious consequences. But, this is rarely a legal requirement.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 19 '17 at 22:13
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    @DavidBlomstrom "you must ... " = "Wikipedia requires that ... ", not "the law requires that ...". The point is, if somebody claims that an image is PD but they are wrong, then Wikipedia may be on the hook for damages. They want evidence of the PD status, so that other editors can rapidly take down a non-PD image. May 28 '18 at 16:04

I am reasonably sure that there is no US law requiring users of public domain content to cite their sources. Academic use might require citation as a matter of academic practice and ethics. Use on Wikipedia will encourage or require citation to comply with various Wikipedia standards and policies. Other circumstance may encourage or demand such citation. But there is no general law making this mandatory.

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