You could be a publisher in 2019

You could be a publisher in 2019

Ever wanted to publish a book?

Generally, books first published in 1923 in the USA are going to fall into the public domain here on January 1, 2019.

Copyright in the USA is complicated (in my opinion, a lot more complicated than it needs to be), but as a rule of thumb, books first published in the USA prior to 1923 are in the public domain now.

That means that the public (you and me and everybody else) owns them. You don’t need to ask anybody’s permission to publish them, and you don’t need to pay anybody. Note: this is rule of thumb. For example, a 1995 translation of a work created in 1921 gets a new copyright, and reproducing that might require permission.

With the last major revision of copyright (again, IANAL…I Am Not A Lawyer, this is my lay understanding), many books got 95 years of protection…so for works published in 1923 in the USA, that runs out this year. They lose their protection on January 1, 2019 (the year gets finished regardless of when in the year they were published).

You could publish the books, and you could sell them…even in the Kindle store…with some significant restrictions.

It used to be a problem in the Kindle store: there would be literally hundreds of editions of some public domain works. Many of them were identical, and of course, many of them might also be significantly flawed (even missing parts of the book).

I wrote about a revision Amazon made to the policy back in 2011:

New guidelines for public domain content

and it has been revised again since then.

Essentially, you need to create significant new content (a new translation, illustrations, annotations), creating a new unique copyright. That will make it what Amazon calls “differentiated”. Amazon is under no obligation to publish works, but if you have something that will sell and won’t cause them problems, it’s to their advantage to do so.

This is also not a “get rich quick scheme”. 🙂 For well-known works, there may be one hundred versions of them or more available to people…yours would need to seem to be of value to readers, and they would need to find them. Also, “undifferentiated” versions will be available for free from other sources, so you’ll have that competition.

Still, if you are an expert in something, or a fan, or an artist trying to get known, this is a great opportunity! Being the publisher might mean that you are also the creator, but it doesn’t have to mean that…there have been many great editors of anthologies. I’ve bought anthologies in the past because they were edited by specific people, or published as part of a series I’ve enjoyed.

What books are going to become public domain?

Unfortunately, the Copyright Office doesn’t have online searchable records for 1923. I’ve been hoping they would get that going for many years now, and they still might.

You can have them research it for you

Copyright search

but they can charge you and they are careful to say that it doesn’t prove anything. 🙂

Many public libraries have physical copyright record books you can view (but typically not remove).

For more information, see

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center

One of the highest profile books I think is covered by this is The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, but there will be many others. One thing I think we’ll really notice is expanded collections for series and authors which were partially published before 1923, but lasted into it. For example, The Cowardly Lion of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, was published in 1923…we’ll see it added to collections with earlier books.

All of this should make 2019 one of the most interesting ones for public domain books we’ve seen in years! Will you be part of the wave? 😉


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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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One Response to “You could be a publisher in 2019”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    As you say copyright is complicated. Not all works get the 95-year protection. For works published before 1978, the copyright had to have been explicitly (manually) renewed 28 years after publication or they do not get the 95-year extension. So all works published before 1964, which were not explicitly renewed at year 28, are in the public domain. This could be a quite sizeable cohort. Books published after 1978 are automatically renewed — so they get the 95-year protection. As you say the automatic granting of copyright means that there is no central registry of copyright holders — this has created a very vexing problem with “orphan” titles in which it is not known whether copyright exists, or who the holder might be. Attempts to do something about orphans (most recently by Google) have been met with fierce oppositions from the Wikipedia article on US copyright — which may not be authoritative :grin).

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