Why Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t in the Kindle store

Why Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t in the Kindle store

I often see questions in the Amazon Kindle community about why a particular book isn’t available in the Kindle store. 

I have to admit a little amusement when the book is described as a classic…and was published well after I was born.  Weren’t all classics published at least fifty years before you were born?  😉

There are some standard answers, and some famous cases where we know the author…um…hasn’t embraced e-books (J.K. Rowling and Ray Bradbury, to name two).

Recently, the question came up about Daphne Du Maurier’s book Rebecca.

It’s actually one of the most wanted books for the Kindle, as reported by

eReaderIQ*

It’s number four on the list, behind two Harry Potters and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I thought it might be illustrative to go through this particular example to look at some of the issues.

Copyright status

This is the first question, and usually the most important.  When an author writes a book, that author has control over the reproduction and sale of that book (within certain limitations). 

The author then traditionally licenses those rights to a publisher.  The publisher has the marketing knowledge and organization, in addition to other things.  The author is given a percentage (“royalty”) for each copy sold.

I’m keeping this simple…there are a lot of possibilities.  🙂

The publisher pays for specific rights for a specific market.  For example, one publisher might buy the hardback rights for Canada.  Another one might buy the audiobook rights for Australia, and so on.

Any rights not purchased stay with the author…or after the author’s death, the author’s estate.

In the USA (and in most parts of the world) copyrights have a limited term**.  When that term runs out, the author or the author’s estate no longer owns the rights.  They belong to the public at that point…they fall into what is called the “public domain”.

When a book is in the public domain, no royalties need to be paid, no permission needs to be obtained.  Anybody can publish the book in any format, make derivative works (like movies) out of it, even change it however they want (which has been in the news lately, with a group that plans to publish altered versions of some of Mark Twain’s works).

When a popular book falls into the public domain, there is a pretty good chance it will become an e-book.  That might be done by a non-profit, such as the laudable

Project Gutenberg

or it could be by someone who chooses to sell it and make a profit for the work they did digitizing the book.  That’s perfectly legal. 

So, my first question when someone asks why a book isn’t in the Kindle store is whether it is in the public domain or not.  If it is, there is a good chance it will show up (if it was popular).

How do I determine that?

Initially, I know the basic rules, although they can get complicated.  If the book was first published in the USA prior to 1923, it is in the public domain…in the USA.  I need to find out where it was published and when.

I usually just go to Wikipedia for this.

In the case of Rebecca, it was first published in 1938 in the UK.

It gets a bit more complicated for books first published outside the US…you can only count on books published before July 1, 1909 as being public domain throughout the US. 

So, it wasn’t going to automatically be in the public domain.

My next stop is

Public Domain Sherpa

which is a wonderful site with a copyright calculator…you can put information in about a book, and tell if it is probably public domain.  I recommend it.

Sometimes, I have to guess at the information for the calculator.  With Rebecca, I assume it was published with the proper formalities, and renewed when the opportunity arose (since the commercial potential would be apparent).

If that’s the case, the book would have 95 years of copyright protection (in the USA).  1938+95=2033, so it would fall into the public domain in 2034.

At that point, we’d certainly get it as an e-book…if the copyright laws don’t change.  Copyright term has been periodically getting longer.

However, there are probably books published in 1938 still under copyright that are available.

In those cases, the rights for the e-book would have been licensed from the author or the author’s estate.

My next step, then, is to see if the author is still alive.  That may mean that the author could still license those rights, or I might need to see if they’ve stated an objection to e-books.

Daphne Du Maurier died in 1989.

That means it is very unlikely that e-book rights were negotiated while she was alive.  E-book rights were generally not negotiated before about 2005.  Sometimes, people try to license the rights for “all future technologies” or some such, but I believe those are generally not upheld.  How could someone reasonably know what the e-book rights are going to be worth…before there are even EBRs (E-Book Readers)? 

So, if Daphne Du Maurier died before e-book rights would have been negotiated, and the book is still under copyright, who can license that right?

The author’s estate.

As you probably know, estate situations can be messy. People may fight over the rights.   Even when it’s not, there may not be anyone around to speak for the book…no one with whom to negotiate.

That last situation is called an “orphan book”.  There is a lot of money being lost because there are books that are still under copyright, but can’t be turned into e-books (or even published as paperbooks, if there isn’t a current contract).  There is “orphan book” legislation under consideration to remedy that situation…but currently, if you can’t get someone to sign off on your e-book project, you just can’t do it legally.

If there is someone speaking for the Du Maurier estate, you can bet they’ve been approached by publishers.  They could be holding off, thinking the market isn’t mature enough yet.  They could be weighing offers.  Or, they just might not care.  😉

The question came up about audiobooks of Rebecca.  Well, Books on Tape started in the mid-1970s, and audiobooks were a serious part of the market before Du Maurier died.  Rights had probably been negotiated.

One other thing: licenses are contracts…they can be done however both parties agree, pretty much.  The author could sell a paperback license to one company, a hardback license to another company, and so on.  The license for different markets (usually countries) could be sold separately.  The license might be for a limited time: maybe they revert to the author after five years or ten years.

I hope that makes the rights situation clearer.  As the market grows, the incentive to license those rights gets bigger.  There will also be more motivation for some sort of orphan books legislation.

Books are being added very quickly (something like 1,000 a day in the US store).  That may accelerate.  There seems to me to be a lot of things to read, but I’m an eclectic reader.  If the book you want isn’t available, you might want to consider trying something else.  Eventually, though, we should see pretty much everything as an e-book.

* http://www.ereaderiq.com has a free service where you can sign up to get an e-mail notification when the book appears for the first time in the Kindle store

** I wrote what turned out to be a controversial post looking at the idea that perhaps copyright should be permanent

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

27 Responses to “Why Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t in the Kindle store”

  1. Renee Says:

    Oh, great. Now I want to read Rebecca. Just great. *grin*

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Renee!

      🙂 Sorry about that. You could still get it in paper…and, um, 2034 isn’t that far away, is it? It’s only 23 years…I mean, does it really seem like that long ago that Die Hard came out Roseanne debuted on TV? It does? Well, then I’m really sorry. 😉

  2. Gail Says:

    Thanks so much for such a very clear and concise explanation. I now understand but am depressed nonetheless…! 🙂

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Gail!

      I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know! That’s what I was trying to do…not the depression part. 😉 The orphan book part is the sad part, I think…copyright isn’t intended to keep works out of the public’s hands. The lengthening terms has made this situation more likely, since it is more likely to end up under the control of the estate. That’s a change: if the book got published initially, the author was involved. That person’s involvement is no longer there after death.

      We’ll have to see what happens with orphan book legislation.

      Thanks again! You made my morning. 🙂

  3. Harry Potter Says:

    Pottermore Guide…

    […]Why Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t in the Kindle store « I Love My Kindle[…]…

  4. Jennifer Says:

    I noticed that it is now appearing as listed in the kindle edition but says currently unavailable. This wasn’t the case a couple weeks ago. Does anyone know if they are trying to get this on kindle?

  5. Sarah Says:

    I have been checking sporadically for a year now as Rebecca is one of my favorite books… but whenever the urge to read it strikes, book stores are closed so I’m left with frantic internet searches to try and find it online. I stumbled on this site (THANK you for this, by the way) after spending about an hour trying to find an ebook version… still no luck. 😦

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sarah!

      I think there are some fundamental changes that may have to happen before we see this one as a legal e-book. I suspect it’s on the estate side.

  6. Nancy Says:

    This morning I bought on Amazon a version of “Rebecca” for my kindle. But after I bought it I noticed there was no copyright or publisher information in the book. It was only $2.99, but I don’t think now that it was legit. What should I do now?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Nancy!

      I’m not seeing it. Are you in the USA? It may be in the public domain in other countries…

      Could you check the ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) for me? It will be on the product page where you ordered the book.

  7. Nancy Says:

    Yes it was on Amazon USA and I live in California. The ASIN is B00APKG70W

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Nancy!

      I’m not finding that ASIN, so it might have been removed.

      If it was me, I’d go to

      http://www.amazon.com/myk

      and see if the title is there. If it is, I would see if I can return it for a refund. If not, I’d contact Kindle Support and explain the situation

      http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport

      My understanding is that you wouldn’t be in legal trouble for having downloaded it (it’s the distribution that’s illegal, which didn’t happen at your end), and I’m sure the Supreme Court ruled that having infringing copies was not the same as having stolen goods. Even though that’s the case, I wouldn’t personally want to keep it if I thought it was infringing.

      Just my thoughts on it, though…

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Whoops!

        The ASIN did work when I tried the search a different way. You might want to check with Kindle Support and see what they say.

  8. Nancy Says:

    No, I just checked and it’s still there. I found it in a round-about way- I was on the page with the Kindle version of Du Maurier’s “The Doll: The Lost Stories” and clicked on the Author link just below the title- it took me to the page with the Kindle version of “Rebecca” listed first.
    I have already decided that I will have to return the copy if it is indeed pirated. I guess my ratty old paperback copy will still have to suffice.

  9. Nancy Says:

    Wow, just got done live chatting with kindle support rep Manmeet- the man was clueless. I don’t think he’d ever heard of Daphne Du Maurier. But wait- there’s more- Two more Daphne Du Maurier books have shown up for sale in the Kindle store. One of which- “My Cousin Rachel”- isn’t even the actual text- but which seems to be a bad and very much shorter summery of the novel. It just gets weirder and weirder.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Nancy!

      It does sound to me like these may be unauthorized. The interesting part of that is that you can’t really can’t Amazon to take something down if you aren’t the rightsholder, which makes sense. If Amazon took down a legitimately licensed version (which they can always do if they want) on the basis of a false accusation, that certainly might make publishers leery of using them.

      As to a possible summary: if the book was in the public domain, that would be legal. My guess is that these are being published by someone who is accessing the books where they are in the public domain, and who just doesn’t realize that isn’t the case in the USA. That’s just speculation, though.

  10. Nancy Says:

    Update- The bogus Du Mauriers have now been taken down from the Kindle store.

  11. yeci Says:

    what are you talking about???rebecca was published 75 years ago..so ur older than that?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, yeci!

      I was talking about the perceptions of what books qualify as classics, and how some people will see a book as a “classic” when others won’t. Specifically, I was relating it to copyright terms.

      I know that humor is sometimes confusing, and I suspect that might be the case with this section:

      “I have to admit a little amusement when the book is described as a classic…and was published well after I was born. Weren’t all classics published at least fifty years before you were born? ;)”

      The semicolon and closed parentheses at the end indicate a “winky face”, a type of emoticon to clue readers into the writer making a joke. Depending on your device, if may actually have been rendered as a winking face.

      In specific reference to Rebecca, my point was that many people apparently think of it as a classic, and they then extrapolate from that to say that it should be available for free.

      As I pointed out in the post (and I had to re-read it…the post appeared close to three years ago), it was first published in the UK in 1935, which means that it is still under copyright protection (providing certain procedures were followed) in the USA.

      So, while some might certainly define it as a “classic”, that does not also mean that it will be in the public domain.

      As to my age, I’m not sure of the relevance. I like people to have the freedom to be judged by their thoughts on the internet, so I tend not to reveal values like that about myself or my readers (although they may choose to do it). I wouldn’t want somebody to say, “You are over 75 years old, therefore your opinion on this has less relevance than someone who is 25 years old.”…or vice versa, of course. I could be 75 years old, or older, or I might be younger. 😉 (There’s that winky face again.)

      My key point was that many books people think of as classics and think, therefore, that they should be free for public use, may still be under copyright protection.

      Does that help clarify it?

      Edited to add: looking at this, I can see you might have been thinking I was saying that Rebecca was published after I was born (which would be possible). In that first part, I was being general, not referring to that specific book. I can see where it might not have been clear. In this sentence:

      “I often see questions in the Amazon Kindle community about why a particular book isn’t available in the Kindle store.”

      it might have been clearer for me to say, “…why any given book” rather than “…a particular book”.

      Thanks for pointing that out! People can now read these comments, which should help clarify it for others.

  12. Round up #251: Rose colored glasses aren’t always wrong, World Book Night | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Why Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t in the Kindle store […]

  13. Steven Jay Cohen Says:

    Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (December 17, 2013)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Steven!

      Yes, it was added after that post was published on January 14, 2011. It’s been nice to see so many of the “backlist” titles added…the post also references J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all of which have been added.

  14. Victoria Kendrick Says:

    My book club of over 60’s women read Rebecca for last weeks meeting. Most of us had read it in the sixties. I bought mine for Kindle. One woman had her original paper back from 1960. Others had different versions which left out the fire at Manderley. There were other changes which I cannot remember. How could this happen if the book is still under copyright protection? we are all curious.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Victoria!

      Well, there are three main ways.

      One would be a book that had falen out of copyright in certain jurisdictions. Not all countries have the same copyright terms.

      The seconed would be unauthorized versions…there could be copyright protections, but someone might wittingly or unwittingly ignore them.

      The third, and I believe this is the case here, is that there could be authorized versions which have been revised and may include different material.

      There is an “original epilogue” for Rebecca which might or might not be included…one character’s name was changed from Henry to Max, as I recall, which can confuse people. I took a look for you, but didn’t see when or in what editions that change might exist.

      There are author’s notes on this which can help explain it.

      Why would there be different legal versions of a book?

      Sometimes, the success of a book may prompt a change…or criticism of it, for that matter.

      One of my readers may know more of the details in this case.

      This is one reason why some book clubs specify that they are going to read a particular edition of the same book, just so everyone is on the same page…or pages. 😉

  15. Lucky Says:

    You mentioned in your article that Audiobooks were a thing before Daphne had passed. Does this mean that it’s permissible by law for anyone to create an audiobook of her works (specifically Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel) for instance, under librivox audio or other self made audios by fans of her work?
    I really have been trying to find out if this is allowed. If you could give me some insight, I’d appreciate it.
    Thanks!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lucky!

      Rights (even those which haven’t been invented yet) remain with the artist/the artist’s estate until the copyright expires. A recording would be covered by that. Now, it is possible that you could volunteer for a group which produces accessible work for audiences with certified disabilities.

      Here’s a nice diagram for works first published outside the USA:

      http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/copyright-duration3.html

      I think Rebecca will fall into the public domain in the US (if things don’t change) in 2033.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: