Here are some quick facts that you should know about the copyright laws applying to the public domain.
Note: These laws apply to works published in the US. For unpublished works and for
works published outside the US, see the resources listed later on.
· Any works published (with or without copyright) before 1923 are in the public
· Any works copyrighted in 1923 or later (with their copyrights renewed in time) will
stay OUT of the public domain till 2018 or longer. This is due to a 20-year copyright
extension enacted in the US in 1998. Usually you can check on the book itself the
copyright date, and if a copyright is renewed, that date is also placed on the book.
· Certain works copyrighted in 1923 or later may have already entered the public
domain because of certain legal constraints. The following types of works
o Works published in the US before 1989 without proper copyright notice
o Works published in the US before 1964 whose copyrights were not
· Works from 1923 or later that were originally published in countries outside the US
may still be copyrighted regardless of whether they were printed with proper notice
· Works that were never registered for copyright prior to 1978, and were never
published prior to 2003, are now in the Public Domain in the US if:
o The author(s) died more than 70 years ago before the most recent New
Year’s Day. For 2005, this means authors who died before 1935. For
more than one author, this applies to the last surviving author.
This is just a quick overview of the copyright law to help you understand what you will be
dealing with when venturing into the public domain. There are other people who have
written comprehensively on this matter – one such resource is from the Cornell Copyright
That contains a detailed and comprehensive table that tells you how the copyright law and
the public domain applies to unpublished works, works published in the US and even
works published outside the US. It is a truly remarkable and useful resource to have for a
public domain businesses.
Another brilliant (an understatement at best) resource is by the law firm Bromberg &