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A publication is the act of making something known to the public at large to inspect or scrutinize. This is done to convey knowledge or give notice.

In the context of copyright law, publication is an important concept and has a very technical meaning. According to 17 U.S.C. §101, “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership (i.e., a rental, lease, or lending). The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.” 

Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public. 

[Last updated in May of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]