Public Domain information?

12 replies
Are there any Public Domain experts in the house?

What is the best way to check if something is in the public domain, like a book or film etc?
#domain #information #public
  • Profile picture of the author tj
    In one sentence, Books published in the USA before 1923 are in general with some excemptions in the public domain, between 1923 and 1963 in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed in their 27th year (also here some excemptions) - book renewals for the US can be checked here at U.S. Copyright Office .

    Timo
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    • Profile picture of the author mattpaul2000
      Originally Posted by tj View Post

      In one sentence, Books published in the USA before 1923 are in general with some excemptions in the public domain, between 1923 and 1963 in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed in their 27th year (also here some excemptions) - book renewals for the US can be checked here at U.S. Copyright Office .

      Timo
      Thanks TJ, great help
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    • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
      Originally Posted by tj View Post

      In one sentence, Books published in the USA before 1923 are in general with some excemptions in the public domain, between 1923 and 1963 in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed in their 27th year (also here some excemptions) - book renewals for the US can be checked here at U.S. Copyright Office .
      They had to be renewed in their 28th year, and they could be renewed at any time during their 28th year.

      So, say a book was published on July 1, 1923. It could be renewed anytime between June 1, 1950 and June 1, 1951. So you would need to search renewal records for the full period. And, if a renewal period ended in December, it might not have appeared in the records until the following year's record. Which means, in some cases, you need to check through a three year period to make sure that something was not renewed. That is, if a book was published on December 15th, 1923, it may show up in the renewals in 1950, 1951 or 1952.
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  • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
    Originally Posted by mattpaul2000 View Post

    Are there any Public Domain experts in the house?

    What is the best way to check if something is in the public domain, like a book or film etc?
    If they were first published in the United States prior to 1923, they are in the public domain.

    If they were first published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963 and NOT renewed, they are in the public domain.

    Films are a tricky one, though. If the copyright was not renewed, but the film was based on material, such as a novel, that is still under copyright protection, those portions of the film derived from the source material would still be protected. Similarly, a film may not have been renewed, but the musical soundtrack may remain under copyright protection. In such a case, the soundtrack would have to be replaced or licensed in order to use the film.

    Also, if the film contains images of art, sculpture, etc. that are protected by copyright, you may need permission to use those portions of the film, because, while the film may be public domain, elements in the film may still be protected by copyright.

    Additionally, you have to be wary of any right of publicity or trademark issues if you want to use a public domain film for commercial purposes, such as creating an ad.

    As for searching to see if a work published between 1923 and 1963 was renewed, you can (for a fee) have the Copyright Office perform the search or hire a private firm to do so. It's cheaper to search yourself, but will be a lot of work and you'll need to learn a lot about copyrights and renewals in order to do the search properly.
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    • Profile picture of the author John Rogers
      Originally Posted by Dan C. Rinnert View Post

      If they were first published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1967 and NOT renewed, they are in the public domain.
      I'm assuming that's a typo folks. It's December 31, 1963, not 1967.

      John
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      • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
        Originally Posted by John Rogers View Post

        I'm assuming that's a typo folks. It's December 31, 1963, not 1967.
        Thanks for catching that. I corrected it in my original reply.

        I don't know where I got the 7...
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        • Profile picture of the author John Rogers
          Originally Posted by Dan C. Rinnert View Post

          Thanks for catching that. I corrected it in my original reply.

          I don't know where I got the 7...
          I knew what you meant. I just didn't want anyone to read that, assume 1967 was correct, and potentially get themselves into hot water.
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          • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
            Originally Posted by John Rogers View Post

            I knew what you meant. I just didn't want anyone to read that, assume 1967 was correct, and potentially get themselves into hot water.
            Which is another example of why people shouldn't take legal advice from a forum. You could be killed by a typo.
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  • Profile picture of the author talewins
    Wow Dan, I'm impressed as all get out. I've been in publishing since 1964 and I never once thought about all those permutations. May I quote you - with a link -- on this?
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  • Profile picture of the author Dave777
    Originally Posted by mattpaul2000 View Post

    Are there any Public Domain experts in the house?

    What is the best way to check if something is in the public domain, like a book or film etc?
    Jack Duncan's excellent WSO awhile back! Might be a few still available...
    http://www.warriorforum.com/warrior-...duct-sell.html

    Dave
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  • Profile picture of the author IdeaLady
    Public domain research can be tricky. There is no place where public domain material is listed. Instead, it is a process of elimination. (Like trying to prove a negative.)

    One good resource if you need copyright research is the law firm Thompson & Thompson. Their fees may be less that the copyright office, and they are faster. Expect that a simple copyright search will start at ~$100 and go up from there if it is more complex.
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  • Profile picture of the author John Rogers
    The quickest most reliable source I've found for preliminary research for book copyright renewals is the Stanford University database at Copyright Renewal Database: Welcome

    John
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