Need Warriors' opinion on Public Domain or Not

by Oryan
5 replies
I would like to know if this is in the public domain or not. I would like to reprint it and sell it or give it away. I hope some Warriors will be able to put my mind at ease about it.

What it is: A recipe booklet produced by a cookware manufacturer, circa 1945. The booklet tells how to use the cookware and provides recipes for use with each type of pot and pan. The company went out of business in 1954 so the cookware is no longer being produced. But the cookware is still popular with some people and is sold on eBay.

I went to the Library of Congress this past summer and searched for a copyright. I found no evidence of it ever being copyrighted. I feel confident that I conducted a thorough search. I searched from 1900 to 2009 just to be sure.

Actually there were three additions of this booklet produced from about the 1920's to the 1950's. I found no copyrights on any of them. The one I have is the third and last. There is a person on eBay already selling reproductions of the second edition.

So, should I be able to copy this booklet and sell it or give it away without fear that I am going to be sued?

I would appreciate any opinions. Thanks!

-- AZ
#domain #opinion #public #warriors
  • Profile picture of the author Dan C. Rinnert
    Do you have an original copy of the work? Is there a copyright notice on it? If it was published prior to 1989, a copyright notice was a requirement of copyright protection. However, there were some allowances. That could be remedied with a subsequent printing, so the absence of a copyright notice is not something to be entirely relied upon.

    Works published before 1964 had to be renewed every 28 years. Let's say that the book was last published in 1954, when the company went out of business. That means that it's copyright would have expired in 1982. If there's no renewal record, there's a good chance it is in the public domain.

    However, you have to be careful whether the work is a derivative work. For example, if the company based the handout on a popular cookbook, then it could be a derivative work. If the original cookbook is still protected by copyright, then, even though the company's derivative work would be in the public domain, you could not use it because it's content is still under the copyright protection of the original work.

    Additionally, basic recipes (that is the list of ingredients) are not copyrightable. However, descriptions and instructions can be, as can a compilation of recipes.

    That the company is out of business is not necessarily indicative of anything. Intellectual property could have been sold or passed along to another company. If the book was the work of an individual author, the rights may have passed to him or her.

    Odds are that the book you have is in the public domain. However, not seeing the work and not being a lawyer, I can't give you a definite answer. Your least expensive option is to get a copy of The Public Domain by Stephen Fishman. Read through it and make sure you have followed the checklists when searching (or re-searching if need be) the copyright status of the book you have.

    A more expensive (but perhaps "safe") option is to hire the Copyright Office or a third-party to perform a records search for you. They can then provide you with a certificate that shows the copyright status of the work. The Copyright Office charges something like $65 per hour and may take months to complete. You can pay more for expedited searching. A private firm may charge more but deliver faster results.

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  • Profile picture of the author mr2020

    If you've done your homework, I would go for it. What's really nice is that the company went out of biz in 1954 so....

    Have fun!

    Mr Twenty Twenty
    Whooo yah!
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  • Profile picture of the author John Rogers
    If the copyright wasn't renewed, then it is in the public domain. The most accurate online database of copyright renewals I'm aware of is at
    Copyright Renewal Database: Welcome

    Run the title through the advanced search. If your booklet doesn't show up in the results, the chances are very high that it is in the public domain.

    I believe the only true safe method that would stand up in court is paying the Copyright Office to do the research for you. But in a case where the company has been long out of business, if the work didn't show up in the renewal database at Stanford University, personally I would go ahead and publish it.

    DISCLAIMER: I ain't no lawyer and am not advising you on what you should do. I'm only telling you what I would do if I were in your situation.

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  • Profile picture of the author Oryan
    Thank you all for your excellent replies.

    I had no idea about the Standford University Database. I have not found the book in that database either.

    I am pretty sure now that the booklet is in the public domain.

    -- AZ
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  • Profile picture of the author nyrsimon
    Dan's info on checking the copyright is spot on!!!.

    But you may also want to check into the fact that I beleive recipes are not covered by copyright. Now I am talking just the recipe. Any pictures, other text etc is covered - just a thought!!! Depends on what you want to do with the book...

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