Marxists Internet Archive: Legal: Copyrights

Copyright Restrictions

What is the Public Domain?

When a work is in the public domain, you can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders of the work.

Summary of U.S. Copyright Laws Presentation (updated 2016)
This information is derived from the Cornell University Copyright Resource Page

1. All printed matter published prior to 1923 is in the public domain. NOTE: this has to be published. This does not apply to unpublished material, private letters, etc. That's a whole other story, and a complicated one.

2. Printed matter published between 1923 and 1977 (inclusive of 1923 and 1977) with no copyright notice in it (or if there is no PROPER copyright notice... one containing (c) or the word Copyright) This is in the public domain. Period. No further need to research the matter.

3. Material published between 1978 and March of 1989 (inclusive of both dates) that lacks a valid copyright notice MAY be in the public domain, but you must research as to whether it was "registered" as copyright within five years of time it was published. Note that, statistically, a relatively small percentage of such material actually was registered, but you must check.

4. Material published between 1923 and 1963 (inclusive of both of those years) that bears a copyright notice is in the public domain if the copyright was not renewed. This must be researched. NOTE: Fewer than 15% of copyrights in this period were renewed. For specifically books, the figure of what percentage had their copyright renewed is around 7%.

Though it is not a totally complete listing, so not a final word legally, the Stanford Copyright Renewal Data Base is an excellent quick check to see if a copyright has been renewed from material copyrighted in this period:

REGARDING SCANS of public domain material:

IF the original document scanned is in the public domain, all scans of it are in the public domain, no matter who made them, how much time and effort was put into making the scans, and regardless of any claims by the party who made the scans that they own them and wish to control how they are used or distributed. .

This is established by many court cases in in the US ("precedence"), up thru some appellate courts, which very STRONGLY rule that all "slavish reproductions" of public domain printed material is in the the public domain. The courts have been quite explicit that a digital scan is one such "slavish reproduction". So are microfilm records and other photographs. However, as of this writing, none of the cases that establish this have gone as far as the US Supreme Court.


Note: These laws apply only to works published in the U.S.A. Works published in other countries are restricted by different copyright laws; please research these laws for the country the book was published in, if not the U.S.A., and contact us with the details you find. Here is a link database, listing International Copyright Law sites. Two countries we know of that do not abide by copyright laws are the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Cuba. The Former U.S.S.R. did not abide by copyright laws until 1973, so works published in the U.S.S.R. before that date are public domain. See also: Principles of Civil Legislation: Copyright, 1961.


Finding if your work is in the Public Domain with Legal References.

All works published in the US before October 27, 1923 are public domain.


Also in the Public Domain:

1. If a book was published in the US without a copyright notice prior to 79, the work is in public domain. For works published after 1978 and before 1989, a publisher had a five year period to correct the omission of notice.

2. For works published in the US before 1964: was the copyright renewed for a second term? If not, the work is in the public domain.

a. For books published between 1924-1949, check the following file to see if the work was renewed for a second term: U.S. Copyright Renewals 1950 - 1977
This is a 30Mb file. See Project Gutenberg's ZIP version.

b. For books published between 1950-1963, check the Library of Congress to see if the coyright was renewed (for works published after 1964 renewal was automatic -- see below).

Hey! Don't be discouraged just yet! If none of these apply to the book you have, you can still write to the owner of the copyright, and request permission for us to print it! Visit our guide for how to do this!

What follows is a general summary of U.S. Copyright laws (by no means a completely accurate representation); the short version for the merely curious: October 28, 1923, will not become public domain until the same day in the year 2019. For the exact letter of the law, please refer to: The US Copyright Office, especially Chapter 3 of Title 17 (on the Duration of copyrights).

Works published or registered before 1 January 1978:

(I) First term of copyright endures for 28 years after registration/publishing.
(II) During the last year of the first term, the copyright can be renewed for a second (last) term. The following restrictions apply to the second term:

(a) The second term for copyrights that expired on or before December 31, 1949 is 28 years (i.e. books published in 1921 and before became public domain in 1977). [Title 17, § 304(a)] (aka 56 year rule)
(b) Second terms that began between January 1, 1950 to October 26, 1951 last for 47 years. (For a work renewed in 1950 (© 1922), it became public domain in 1997) [Copyright Act of 1976] (aka 75 year rule)
(c) Any work published on or after January 1, 1964 is automatically renewed for a second term (making the entire copyright restricted for 75 years from date of publishing). [Copyright Renewal Act of 1992] (Public Law 102-307)
(d) Any second term subsisting on October 27, 1998 is extended an additional 20 years (i.e. applies to works published on that date in 1923 and later -- For a work renewed in 1952 (© 1924), it is restricted from the public domain until 2019).(Making the entire copyright restricted for 95 years from date of publishing) [Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act] (Public Law 105-298; aka 95 year rule)

Sources: US Copyright law, Title 17, Chapter 3; US Copyright Circular 1; US Copyright Circular 15.
See Also: Cornell Institute for Digital Collections; Bromberg & Sunstein flowchart


Using Copyright Notices on MIA

The documents you publish on MIA will fall into one of four categories. Cite the appropriate category for any work you publish on MIA:

Copyright: Materials that we have recieved permission to publish.
Public Domain: Materials that are no longer copyright, based on the copyright law of the nation the book was published in.
Fair Use: Use this very rarely and with great care. In the US, fair use laws are highly ambigious, and could encompass anything from a few paragrahs to a chapter of a book. Several pages of a book is a safe middle ground, and we recommend volunteers not exceed this.
Copyleft: Materials that are created by MIA volunteers and uploaded to MIA must be licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution-Sharealike).



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