Amazon revised the public domain publishing policy again, and I think it’s…
Back in 2011, I wrote about
for publishers (often one person) using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
At that point, they required that original material be added to public domain works for them to be published through KDP.
Let me explain that a bit more.
A “public domain” work is one that is not under copyright protection…in this case, that would often involve a book where the copyright term has expired. That work is no longer owned by the author or the author’s estate…the public now owns it (hence “public domain”).
Throughout the history of copyright in the USA, there has been a limited term of protection*. In fact, the idea of a limited time is in the original “copyright clause” of the Constitution:
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
So, once a book falls into the public domain, anyone can publish it and sell it and do whatever they want with it, without having to get permission from or pay anybody who originally created it.
One advantage of that to society is that it is a way for books (and magazines and newspapers) to become available to the public again. If you have a book in your garage which is out of copyright, you could digitize it and put it online…legally.
This is, by the way, not quite the same as “orphan works”. You may hear about that. The issue there is books which are not in the public domain, are “out of print”…and have no one to “speak for them”. For example, a book might have been published in the 1950s by a publisher that then went out of business, but had no “reversion rights” (under which the rights would have gone back to the author or author’s estate). That is being reviewed at the national level.
The one big drawback to Amazon’s 2011 policy was that it likely had a chilling effect on the variety of books available to us…and may have lead to the loss of some material.
Why is that?
Quite simply, not everyone is a creator. If someone had a box of old magazines in the garage, they might have digitized them and made them available (for a price) through the Kindle store…but not if they had to write something new about them.
Under the 2011 policy,they might have just tossed them.
Well, I was looking today, and the policy has changed! It now says
“In order to provide a better customer buying experience, our policy is to not publish undifferentiated versions of public domain titles where a free version is available in our store.”
This should make more books available to us…and provide people with another way to make some money. The money can compensate them for the not inconsiderable work of digitizing a public domain work.
I have done that myself in my work with a non-profit (in the past)**.
In fact, this makes it quite a bit more likely that I will digitize some of the works I have for the Kindle store…and ones that aren’t available now. Don’t look for anything soon…it does take quite a while to do it reasonably well. It will be on my list of things, though. 🙂
If you have some old books/magazines/newspapers, and are curious as to whether or not they might be in the public domain, I recommend starting with the
That can show you if a book is pretty definitely in the public domain.
If that doesn’t say it is the case, then you can go to
and start researching there.
Within certain timeframes, you can determine if a work is in the public domain there.
It’s all gotten much more complicated since it became no longer necessary to include a copyright notice, among other things. Copyright is now automatic…you don’t have to register them, although it can help.
The Copyright Office is working on getting older records to be searchable online through the Digitization and Public Access Project…they are making progress, but they don’t indicate they are done yet.
Summing up, I think that this loosening of the guideline is a good thing which may save some works from being lost, give us more options for things to read, and provide another possible revenue stream for individuals and organizations.
What do you think? Do you read public domain works? Do you think it’s reasonable for someone to charge for a book they didn’t write or help to initially create? Do you have any works you might digitize? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this work.
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* I have explored the idea of permanent copyright in exchange for more robust Fair Use rules in Should copyright be permanent?
**One of the books I digitized (and Norberto Pellicci worked on it after me) was Behind the Flying Saucers [Annotated] (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping) I added an afterword where I gave some of the historical context
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 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.