Do you ever get confused about copyright—what it protects, how long it lasts, maybe even how you file for your book? Well, you are not alone! We get questions about copyright all the time, and with the year coming to an end, we wanted to help address those.
Thanks to the Copyright Term Extension Act, nothing new has become public domain since 1998. Public domain is when the copyright (the legal protection of a work) expires. Starting with books published in 1923, authors get 95 years of protection rather than 75. But that protection expires on December 31, 2018, and all the books published in 1923 become public domain on January 1, 2019.
In practical terms, what does this mean?
For publishers, it means that those books published in 1923 are now fair game. This is why there are dozens of versions of classics like Pride and Prejudice—it’s not protected, and the author (or their family) no longer get royalties. Any publisher can sell their own version.
For authors, it also means that the characters and storylines are fair game. Do you think that it would be better with supernatural creatures? You can re-write the book with the inclusion of vampires or zombies or werewolves and sell it to a publisher as a new book for which you get the royalties. Seth Grahame-Smith did this and wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Or were you upset the book ended too early and wanted to know what happened next? Now you can publish your speculative fan fiction. To continue with our Pride and Prejudice example, take Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James, which takes the characters, six years after the conclusion of the original novel, into a murder mystery.
It also means that film studios no longer need to buy the rights to produce movies and TV shows based on the books, so in the coming years, you can expect to see a surge in adaptions of 1920s fiction.
What is becoming public domain?
Obviously, a lot of books were published in 1923. For a more extensive list, please click here. Below, we’ve listed some of the highlights.
- The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
- The Rover by Joseph Conrad
- Three Stories and Ten Poems by Ernest Hemingway
- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley
- The Prisoner by Marcel Proust
- Men Like Gods by H. G. Wells
- A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton
- “Mrs Dallowaay in Bond Street” by Virginia Woolf
- Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office by Hugh Lofting
- Saint Joanby George Bernard Shaw
- Tulips and Chimneys by E. E. Cummings
- New Hampshire by Robert Frost (this includes “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”)
What do you need to know about copyright for your own work?
A book is intellectual property, and that’s what customers are buying from the author. Copyright is the right to copy a work, and prevents bookstores or individuals from buying a book, making copies and selling them.
At SparkPress, your publishing package automatically includes the perk that we file for copyright on your behalf. This means that once your book goes into design, we create a copyright page for it, send a final copy (after your pub date) to the copyright office with the application form, pay the fee (which ranges from $35 to $55), and also register and send a copy of your book to the Library of Congress. A traditional publisher would also take care of this for you.
For authors, there are several resources now for filing for copyright. Keep in mind, too: an author owns the copyright to a book the moment it is written, before publishing the book. However, for the most protection possible, federal registration is needed. This is a pretty easy process and less expensive than other forms of intellectual property protection.
To copyright your work, visit copyright.gov, which is set up by the Library of Congress. You register for an online portal, pay the fee, and provide information about your book. At this point, your book is now on the database and proves that you created your work at the month and year you claim, so if anyone ventures to copy and sell your work, they would have to prove that they created it before you. Since the copyright office is notorious for being backed up, it usually takes about six months to a year to receive your physical copyright certificate that you should keep on file.
What other questions do you have about copyright? Let us know below!