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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:


  • 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

  • Is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, published in 1952 in public domain? was the copyright renewed?

  • Hi…I don’t know where to start my search, so I’ll just ask my question. How do I find out about the copyrights to an old book? Here’s a link to the book in question.


    I would like to share this authors wonderful work with the modern world by creating a website that highlights Rebecca McMann’s art and verse, and then share on social media photographed copies.

    What steps do I need to take to get permission?

    I would appreciate any help in pointing me in the right direction.

    Thank You,

  • I want to share the book Enchantress Amongst Alchemists with everyone on Wattpad, I don’t ask for credit; I give all credit to the author, and if he/she wants, he/she can tell me to take it down, but I don’t if it’s in the public domain. Can you help me know if it’s in the public domain?

  • so if a book is in public domain that means i can upload a video of myself reading it onto youtube without having to worry about compyright?

    • Vicki, When I saw your question (on Biblio’s blog) I thought of a parallel question. So I hope a person reading this blog will address both our queries. I am investigating making videos of myself reading books to kids (from ages 3 up to 20! We all like to hear someone read to us!). I only wish to use material in the public domain. When is a book “old enough”? If you get answers that help you, great. And if you wish to share the answers with another book lover, you can find my name on LinkedIn and message me there: Name Dinah T Farrington (DOB 8/11/1956)
      Best wishes, Dinah F.

  • I’m interested in the copyright law regarding A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott. The novel was written in 1866 but published in 1995. It’s currently in the copyright registry, but should it be? Would this fall under the 2002 rule or does the publication date overrule that?

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