You own these books now: 2020

You own these books now: 2020

Thanks to reader Nancy for suggesting this post!

Congratulations, member of the public!

On January 1st in the USA (and also in some other countries), most books first published in America fell out of copyright protection and became “public domain”. That means they are owned by the public, and you can legally do pretty much whatever you want with them: copy them, sell them, adapt them to movies or TV, produce terribly proofread versions, add adult elements…whatever.

This is probably a good place for me to say that IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer). That said, this is relatively unambiguous, which is certainly not always the case in copyright.

In 1998, copyright (again, this is just the USA) was largely extended to 95 years. It’s more complicated than that, somewhat, and changes over time (at one point, a proper copyright notice had to be published…due to an odd set of circumstances, that didn’t happen with the movie Night of the Living Dead, which caused it to fall into the public domain. That’s no longer the case).

Works 1st published in the USA in 1924 had 95 years of permission. 1924+95=2019, so they were protected through that period. On January 1st, 2020, that ended.

What books are those?

Here’s a Duke Law page on it:

However, my feeling is that page is advocatory: it certainly seems to favor the idea of shorter copyright terms (for example, listing what would have gone into the public domain if copyright had not been extended).

I do think their listing is likely to be accurate, even though we may have different feelings about potential copyright reform. They argue that shorter copyright terms are better, while I have explored the idea of permanent copyright in exchange for greater Fair Use provisions:

Should copyright be permanent?

Let’s take a look…I will also include books that don’t appear on that page that I’ve seen other places:

  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: it’s been listed as one of the 100 top novels, and had an Oscar-winning adaptation in 1984 (directed by David Lean). This is a good place to point out that just because a source work is in the public domain, it doesn’t mean that every version and adaptation of it is. Let’s say you publish a new version of A Passage to India…and add illustrations. Those illustrations are not in the public domain just because Passage is, so you have to be careful if you choose to distribute a book you think is PD
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne: this is a book of poetry for children and includes the first reference to what would become known as Winnie-the-Pooh
  • The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie: yes, an Agatha Christie mystery! This one introduces Colonel Race
  • Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs: this is the 10th book in the Tarzan series and the series changes in tone afterwards, with less focus on the Jungle Lord. Trivia: it gets mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Dr. Dolittle’s Circus by Hugh Lofting: another book in a series, this one has some elements that people who have seen the 1967 musical movie may remember, in particular the Pushmi-Pullyu (like a llama with heads on both ends)
  • The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany: another fantasy, but of the epic variety
  • The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann: a philosophical novel
  • Old New York by Edith Wharton: a set of four novellas

That’s just some…and they’ll show up fairly quickly online (they may be there already, since people knew this was happening). I’d particularly look at

Project Gutenberg


The Internet Archive

Also, Google search will generally show the full book for public domain titles (where they have already scanned them), as opposed to snippets. For example, here is

the full text of Tarzan and the Ant Men at Google books

It’s more than books: there are also movies, which will affect those of us watching on Fire TVs and such. 🙂 Interesting, while some songs are part of it, actual sound recordings tend not to be (meaning you can’t just reproduce the records you bought at a garage sale).

This should continue until the laws change (well, until 2073…then, we are reliant on the “life+” system, which is much harder to figure), with more books entering the public domain on January 1st each year…

Feel free to let me and my readers know if you are releasing anything based on these works by commenting on this post!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: (

One Response to “You own these books now: 2020”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Thanks! Nancy

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