General Knowledge/FAQ About Books

How do I know if a book is in the public domain?

What makes a book public domain? Here’s a simple guide to help in determining whether a book is in the public domain.

A public domain work is a creative or intellectual work that copyright law does not protect. These works of authorship, be they music, plays, books, poetry, or art, may be used freely by anyone once they enter the public domain. Once the copyright terms end, the public has “the right to copy” – meaning anyone can copy or reproduce the work, 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, since 1/1/1978, as soon as an artistic work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, it is 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 U.S. policy on copyright status:

Date of WorkProtected fromTerm
Created January 1, 1978, or afterWhen work is fixed in a tangible medium of expressionAuthor death + 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 copyrightAuthor death + 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 copyrightAuthor death + 70 years or December 31, 2047, whichever is greater

Some examples of public domain books:

Since 2020, several notable books have entered the public domain, allowing for their widespread availability and adaptation. Among these works are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.


  • 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?

  • Frankenstein is now in the public domain, but does copyright still apply to graphic novels of the story which have been published recently?

  • Hallo,
    I am quite new in these subjects.
    I am interested in a book which was published in 1869:
    For sure the author was dead by 1952 and therefore the work is in the public domain, but I can not find objective references in the web as to when did he actually die.
    Could anybody help me and tell me if there is a catalogue for instance, where one can check something like this?
    Thanks and kind regards,

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