How To Make Awesome Money Using FREE Public Domain Resources

How To Make Awesome Money Using FREE Public Domain Resources
Image – Pixabay (PD)

“Every year bookstores sell hundreds of thousands of copies of works that are public domain and simply reprinted. In fact, entire companies exist that publish almost all public domain material.” — Yanik Silver –

“Producing and selling products from public domain materials is a pretty easy business. But like any business, there is a learning curve before you get to where it is second nature. My model is based on eventually building a large catalog of long tail products. In other words, I don’t try to hit home runs. I’m happy to get a continuing string of singles. It makes things like research much easier because you are not focused on making a killing on each product, just a small trickle of income that keeps coming in for years and years.” — “Schabotte” – Warrior Forum post titled “100k pa Public Domain Revenue”.


So there you are, wanting to make some money while you sleep but you’ve come up against a road block: You don’t think you are very good at creating content.

Enter the Public Domain…

First you need to know that I am not an attorney, so none of my writings are legal advice and you should get appropriate counsel if needed.

The Public Domain is a colossal, gigantic, huge, massive (get the picture?) vault of writings, images, photos, music, illustrations, magazines and other creative materials that you are free to use for any purpose.

You can remix or amend public domain works and include them in your own work. You can repackage them. You can even reprint them, resell them in digital format and do any one of a myriad of other things with them. For example, the plays of Shakespeare are all in the public domain and have now been used in over 420 feature-length films. If the plays had only just been written, they would be subject to copyright and licenses would need to be obtained before using the scripts.

The public domain can be an incredible resource for the acquisition and use of intellectual property.

First of all, it is vital to comprehend what the public domain is – and especially, which works are in the public domain. You need to know this for two reasons:
a) because material that is not in the public domain is protected by copyright and is therefore illegal to use commercially without permission / license.
b) because people often attempt to prevent commercial use of material that is public domain (and that they therefore have no legal right to prevent use of!)

An excellent primer is the Wikipedia page. I also very highly recommend Stephen Fishman’s “The Public Domain – How to Find and Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More” . This is a Nolo guide – and for those who don’t know, the Nolo series of books are a reputable, well established series of legal reference guides. Don’t be put off – the Nolo guides do not speak “legalese” but attempt to teach the lay person everything they need to know about the subject. I own Fishman’s book on the public domain and it explains the subject in full detail.

Public domain material can be divided into four approximate categories:

1) Generic “data” and factual information that cannot really said to have been a product of creativity.
2) Original works donated to the public domain by their creator.
3) Formerly copyrighted works that have now passed into the public domain, typically due to their age.
4) Works by the US Government (and some others).

The essence of “formerly copyrighted works becoming public domain” is simple: Copyright does not last forever. The general principle is that during the creator’s lifetime, it is right that they benefit from their work and are able to license it, publish it and so on. However after the work is of a certain age, it has been decided that it would be beneficial for it to “belong to all humanity” and the public domain ensures that the work then becomes available to all. It’s a good system.

For works published in the United States, any work first published in the USA before 1923 is now in the public domain. Works from 1923 and 1963 that have not had their copyright renewed are also in the public domain! The “cut off dates” vary in different countries – many other countries determining the length of copyright to be 50 or 70 years after the death of the content creator.


One of the classic ways to use public domain material to make money is to repackage or reprint old public domain works and sell them. You can do this! Here is a list of ideas:

PDFs – Amazingly enough, some people are making money selling PDFs of public domain books that are available for free elsewhere. Visibility is key!

DVD collections – eBay does not allow you to sell digital download PDFs, but there’s nothing stopping you putting them on a DVD, packaging it nicely and selling it! One example is that of an eBay seller selling a DVD collection of nearly 200 books of fairy tales from the 1920 and before. What’s fascinating is that if you were to look around, you could find these files available for free download. But by gathering them together, curating the collection (an important concept to get) and putting them in front of people, you have a great opportunity to sell. There will undoubtedly be a significant number of people going to ebay and typing “fairy tales” who will see this collection. There are many others who do not fully understand the concept of public domain – and how to identify which books are in the public domain – so you have in essence helped them by providing a short cut to these interesting works.

Audiobooks – Another classic is to make mp3 “audiobooks” of famous classic books. People love to be able to listen to their favorite books – and if you have a few technical skills, there’s nothing at all stopping you from making a recording of a public domain book, and then burning the files in mp3 format to DVD. Again, another successful venture on ebay and an easy income stream once the products are created.

You can even short-cut this step: LibriVox makes recordings of public domain books and releases the audio in the public domain! Librivox is part of the Gutenberg project and has recorded over 12,000 books so far.

Book reprints – Other sellers are making or using photocopies of ancient / rare public domain books to make reprints and sell them for less than the rare original. You’ve probably seen these for sale on Amazon if you have an interest in old books.

Retro images – 1) People are getting hold of hi-res files of famous old paintings and making their own reprints to sell. A classic example is the 19th century artist Waterhouse. Another classic example is 19th century European promotional posters and advertisements – very fashionable. Also, old Japanese paintings such as those by Hokusai. Check for some resources.

Finding the highest quality version of an image – Google Images has introduced a really cool option to “search for similar images” which enables you to search for the highest resolution versions of an image file online. See the camera icon in the right of the search box? Click that, and then upload the version of the image that you have (or just drag and drop), then hit “Search by Image”. Easy!

Retro images – 2) Here’s an example of someone scanning printed images from old out-of-copyright books and selling them on eBay – claiming an auto-pilot business that made over $7,881 in 90 days.

Old magazine cartoons – You could frame old illustrations from 19th century magazines such as early issues of Punch.

Maps – you could sell high quality prints of ancient maps such as the famous Piri Reis Map.

Ancient manuscripts and books – You could make / obtain high quality scans of ancient manuscripts and sell them in PDF format on a disc (many of these scans are now being made available by libraries, who prefer people look at digitized files than at the actual, fragile documents).

Some people are breaking apart old books and selling framed pages at a big markup. It’s certainly profitable but somewhat frowned upon because of the destruction of the old book that is part of the process!

Websites – there are various websites that offer public domain materials for free download and then generate money via advertising on the pages. Free image sites such as Pixabay and Pexels are classic examples.


Absolutely TONS here (we’re talking millions of images):


Here are a few awesome collections of ancient manuscripts to get you started. Much of this material is public domain but be sure before making commercial use:

Digital Scriptorium
(set the “Publication date (end)” to get books that were published prior to a certain date and thus public domain – be sure to check the manuscript for the actual date of printing as Google’s scans sometimes pick up the date incorrectly.) (archive link) – big database of free texts of all kinds, be sure to check they are public domain though.


There are countless options and I hope I have given you some good ideas. There is nothing to stop you creating a business using public domain materials and creating products which can be sold on auto-pilot. There are various deeper tutorials on public domain wealth out there: Here’s one we found on Amazon: The Public Domain Code Book: Your Key to Discovering the Hidden Treasures and Limitless Wealth of the Public Domain (Note – this book is a bit pricey but you can read a fair amount for free using the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon!)

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How To Make Awesome Money Using FREE Public Domain Resources
Graphic – Image src – Pixabay (PD)

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