The book is On growth and forms by D'arcy Thompson. It was published in 1942 and Thompson died in 1948. Wikipedia uses the image citing public domain. Can I use extracts and images from the book with proper citation without the problem?

The image I want is Fig. 125 on this page.

The book is also available in archive.org and I think it should be in public domain.

The image itself has a caption and in bracket says (After Rhumbler), I am not sure if it is by Thompson himself. Rhumbler would be Ludwig Rhumbler who died in 1939. So it should still be in the public domain as far as I get it.

Do I need a copyright license for the image or it is in the public domain and I could use it without one?

I am in Germany and my thesis will be published in Germany.

3 Answers 3


On Growth and Form by D'arcy Thompson is a somewhat tricky case. (The last word of the title is "Form" not "Forms" by the way.) The first edition was published in 1917, and is therefore out of copyright in the US. The expanded edition ws published in 1942, and will be in copyright IN THE US until 2037, unless the copyright holder failed to renew the copyright in 1970 (after the initial 28 year term). Actually the renewal could have been anywhere in the period 1969-71, as a 1 year margin plus or minus was allowed. Assuming that the renewal was done properly, any images included in the first edition are free for anyone to use. Any added in the 1942 edition are not.

If Wikipedia lists the image you want as public domain, check the detailed reason that they give. For the image of figs 517 & 518 from the 1942 ed The original publication date is listed as 1917, which implies that the image was in the first edition.

Wikipedia is pretty good at copyright, but has been known to get things wrong. In fact I have been involved in correcting a few errors of this sort. In this case verification is not excessively hard.

I would suggest that you find a copy of the first edition, and check if the image you wan to use is included there. If it is, you should feel free to use it. if it isn't they you are are not free without permission unless the renewal was not made. Verifying copyright renewals is a bit arduous, but it can be done.

On a further look it seems that the version on the internet archive linked in the question is a copy of the first edition. It carries a 1917 date, and I see no indication of a revision or 'second edition" or a 1942 date. The IA metadata says "Publication date 1917 " If this is correct, this version and any orall of its contents are in the public domain for anyone to use in any way at all.

Note that if the book had been first published in 1942, the answer would have been different. And the answer would be different again under UK law, which now uses a life+70 term, placing the 1942 edition out of copyright. The same would be true in many other countries which use life+70 or life+50. (The US uses life+70, but only for works published after 1977. The 1978 copyright act came into effect 1 Jan 1978.)

Note that in countries which use a term longer than life+70, and there are a few, this work would not yet be out of copyright.

  • Hi David, thank you for the detailed answer. Yes, the image I want to use seems like was present in the 1917 edition (as seen from the archive.org version). I am in Germany where the copyright term is life+70 years and as Thompson died in 1948, I think the book would in public domain, as it would mean the copyright expired on 2018. So, do you think I am free to use the image in my work? Thanks a lot for the answer
    – jkhadka
    Apr 3, 2019 at 10:40
  • @hadi k anything from the 1917 edition should be free to use without permission or royalty anywhere in the world. Anything from the 1942 edition should be free to use in any life+70 (or shorter) country. Apr 3, 2019 at 11:12
  • 1
    why would any publication of 1917 be in public domain now? is there a particular law regarding that (except that of life+70yrs)?
    – jkhadka
    Apr 3, 2019 at 11:24
  • @hadi k In the US, the 1976 copyright act, as modified by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, provides for a 95 year term for work published in the US (and in most cases for work published outside the US) prior to 1978, which means that anything published in 1924 or earlier is now out of copyright. Most countries now have a life+70 term, which means that any of this author's works are out of copyright, although it would be possible for a work written in 1917 by someone young who lived long to still be in copyright in such countries. Apr 3, 2019 at 11:52
  • @DavidSiegel, it's not public domain in Columbia (life + 80), Jamaica (life + 95), Samoa (life + 75), or Spain (life + 80 for authors who died before 1987).
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2019 at 22:48

Since you don't specify what country you're in, I'm assuming you're interested in the United States copyright.

If the book were published in 1942, the answer would be "maybe". You'd need to ask permission in the following case:

  • It was published with a copyright notice and the copyright was renewed in 1970.

and would be free to use it in these others:

  • It was published without a copyright notice (the copy you linked to doesn't have a notice, but that doesn't apply, because it's from the UK publication of the book, not the US publication).
  • It was published with a copyright notice, but copyright was not renewed.

But the book you've linked to wasn't published in 1942, it was published in 1917. That makes it unconditionally in the public domain in the United States. Additionally, since the author died in 1948, it's in the public domain in any country with a copyright term of life+70 years.

(Source: https://copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain)


I haven't researched the book, but if it was published in 1942 the copyright would extend for 95 years, so no, you can't quote the book.

Works published after 1923, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/faqs/copyright-basics/

If the image is listed as public domain on Wikipedia it is probably ok. If you want to use other images, you need to find out if they are also public domain.

  • "95 years from publication" is a greatly simplified version of things. The actual duration of copyright in the US is summarized here -- it's a table about four pages long.
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2019 at 0:12
  • The well known [Cornell chart ](copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain) is probably the best source on this -- updated every year. The version linked by @mark seems to be a copy. Apr 3, 2019 at 0:35

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