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The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge - writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others - in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. (Proprietary interest is typically represented by a copyright or patent.) Such works and inventions are considered part of the public's cultural heritage, and anyone can use and build upon them without restriction (not taking into account laws concerning safety, export, etc.).
While copyright was designed to give a (financial) incentive to the creator, works in the public domain just exist as such. The public have the right to use and reuse works in the public domain without financial or social burden. When copyright or other restrictions reach the end of their life, works are said to revert to the public domain.