When Does a Book Become Public Domain

Jodee Redmond
Book in Public Domain

The question, "When does a book become public domain?" is not a simple one to answer. A book's status depends on the date it was published.

Definition of Public Domain

The public domain is works that are not protected by copyright. They are available to the public for any purpose. Copyright laws, which are designed to protect the rights of artists, writers, and musicians, vary depending on the country. Once the copyright expires, the work becomes part of the public domain.

When Does a Book Become Public Domain?: United States Law

The law with respect to "When does a book become public domain?" has changed several times over the years. The length of time that an author can hold the copyright to a book depends on when it was written. Some types of written work are automatically in the public domain.

When Works Become Part of Public Domain
Date of Publication Length of Copyright Protection
Before 1923 No copyright; Part of Public Domain
1923-1963 Protected for 28 years. If not renewed during 28th year, part of public domain. If renewed, copyright lasts for 95 years.
1964-1977 If notice of copyright given, copyright automatically renewed for second term.
1978-Present Life + 70 years for individual author; works written by corporation are protected for 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever is shorter).

Works Produced Before 1923

Any written works written before January 1, 1923 are not subject to copyright protection.

Works Produced Between 1923-1964

If an author published a book or registered it before publication between January 1, 1923 and January 1, 1964 with a notice of copyright, the work was protected for 28 years. If the copyright was not renewed in the 28th year, the work became part of the public domain. Renewing the copyright extended this legal protection for an additional 47 years.

Works Published From 1964-1977

Any works that were published between 1964 and 1977 or registered before publication for copyright purposes were automatically renewed for a second term.

January 1, 1978-Present

As of the summer of 2009, works created after January 1, 1978 are protected by copyright legislation for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a book that was written by a corporate author, copyright lasts for 95 years after publication or 120 years from the date it was created, whichever is shorter.

Reasons a Book is Part of Public Domain

The reasons why a book may not be protected under copyright law are:

  1. The term of copyright protection has expired.
  2. The author didn't take the appropriate steps to protect the work under applicable copyright law.
  3. The work was published by a government agency. If a work is published by United States government agency or department, it automatically becomes part of the public domain.

Additional Information

To find out more about the subject of copyright, check out these informative articles from LoveToKnow Freelance Writing:

When Does a Book Become Public Domain