I just finished my new book, Telling Twain, so I learned a lot about public domain and copywright issues, although my disclaimer is that I’m not a lawyer so what do I know? But this is what I have found.
As Tim Sheppard noted, Project Gutenberg is a reliable source. They do have some things that carry copywright, but each one is carefully noted, so if you don’t see a notice, you can be pretty comfotable that the work is safe from copywright claims. In general, if your source work is first published before 1923, it is in the public domain. There is a rare case where source material was recorded on a different medium (i.e., microfilm), and the writer that used that microfilm as a source got into trouble, but I’m not sure that even held up.
Anyway, with public domain, even if a later source is used, that source can not claim copywright for the content that is directly taken from the orginal source, but only for their modification or presentation of the material. For instance, they can claim copywright for the particular sequence of stories, and they can also claim copywright for the modifications made.
As an example, as I understand it, if the original sentence was “I was determined to tip my hat the next time I saw her”, and the new source reads “I had decided to tip my brown hat the next time I saw her”, the new source can only claim copywright to the phrase “had decided” and the word “brown”, possibly claiming that they had created a new sentence with the modifications. But the rest of the sentence remains in the public domain. In other words, the new source can’t remove the public domain aspect of the original simply by creating a derivatve work. Anyway, a long-winded, and possible esoteric discussion of the vagaries of working with public domain material.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by Steve Daut.