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I'm looking at publishing an e-book from a public domain book, and wondering if I can distribute it in the US. The book is Sex & Culture by J. D. Unwin.

The book was published in 1934 and the author died in 1936, so it is public domain in the UK and most other countries. According to the Hirtle Chart it is in the public domain in the US if its copyright wasn't renewed, which it wasn't explicitly. However, I stumbled upon some information that might mean that it was renewed implicitly if all of the following are true:

  • At least one author was a citizen or resident of a foreign country (outside the US) that's a party to the applicable copyright agreements. (Almost all countries are parties to these agreements.)
  • The work was still under copyright in at least one author's "home country" at the time the GATT copyright agreement went into effect for that country (1 January 1996 for most countries).
  • The work was first published abroad, and not published in the United States until at least 30 days after its first publication abroad.

Source: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/renewals.html

In my case, it appears that all of above are true:

  • J. D. Unwin was a British citizen, which is a party to the agreements.
  • In, 1996, UK copyright term was author's year + 70 years, which means the book was under copyright at that time.
  • The book was never published in the US.

Is my understanding correct here?

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From what little I understand of this, if the work qualifies as a "restored" work, under 17 USC § 104A, then it would technically have a US copyright (95 years from publication), as if they had actually complied with the US formalities that were superseded in later years. However, as you point out, under § 107 (h)(6) that US statute only applies where the native country's copyright had not expired as of 1996.

I would run it by an actual copyright attorney in your bailiwick, to be certain.

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