How to determine if a book is in the public domain

Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890, therefore it 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 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 current copyright policy.

Date of Work Protected from Term
Created January 1, 1978 or after When work is fixed in tangible medium of expression Life + 70 years
Published before 1923 In public domain None
Published from 1923-1963 When published with © or other notice 28 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 – 1977 When published with © or other notice 28 years for first term; now automatic extension of 67 years for second term
Created before January 1, 1978 but not published January 1, 1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or December 31, 2002, whichever is greater
Created before January 1, 1978 between then and December 31, 2002 January 1, 1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or December 31, 2047 whichever is greater

Some examples of books that are in the public domain:



This entry was written by and posted on July 27, 2010 at 7:36 pm, filed under Book Identification, Book Terminology, General Knowledge/FAQ About Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink

One Response to “How to determine if a book is in the public domain”

  1. Alan

    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

    Reply

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