General Knowledge/FAQ About Books

How to determine if a book is in the public domain

A simple guide to help in determining whether a book is in the public domain.

A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be used freely by anyone. “Copyright” can be simply defined as “the right to copy.”This means that anyone can copy or reproduce the work, either physically or digitally.

The reasons that the work is not protected include:

(1) the term of copyright for the work has expired; (2) the author failed to establish or renew lapsed copyright (3) the work was produced under the aegis of the U.S. Government.

In general, works of any kind created (when work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression) on or since 1/1/1978 are protected by copyright for the duration of the author’s life, plus 70 years. Below is a simple chart of the basic details of the current copyright policy.

Date of WorkProtected fromTerm
Created January 1, 1978, or afterWhen work is fixed in a tangible medium of expressionLife + 70 years
Published before 1923In public domainNone
Published from 1923-1963When published with © or other notice28 years+ could be renewed for 47 years, now extended by 20 years for a total renewal of 67 years. If not so renewed, now in public domain
Published from 1964 – 1977When published with © or other notice28 years for the first term; now an automatic extension of 67 years for the second term
Created before January 1, 1978, but not publishedJanuary 1, 1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyrightLife + 70 years or December 31, 2002, whichever is greater
Created before January 1, 1978, between then and December 31, 2002January 1, 1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyrightLife + 70 years or December 31, 2047, whichever is greater

Some examples of books that are in the public domain:

2 Comments

  • Was wondering if Palestine and transjordania Ludwig preiss and paul rohrbach. New York the macmillan company. Trying to see if it is still under copyright if it got renewed

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