Suppose I download a PDF file of a book (one that is undisputably in the public domain, like a mid-1800s Bible). The PDF is created from source files using a combination of automated conversion and manual typesetting/editing. Various versions and excerpts (of both the same source and of this particular file) exist elsewhere online.

The file's text itself does not contain a copyright notice, just an original publishing date and a request to update the PDF file maker if errors are found.

I would like to make a few changes to the work and publish it as a hard copy book. Is there any legal concern with doing so? Would I need to include their PDF notice?

  • Is the PDF just a scan of the public domain book, or was it typeset independently? Depending on where you are, the typesetter/publisher may have copyright-like rights in the file. Whether a copyright notice is present is irrelevant.
    – amon
    Sep 8, 2019 at 9:52

1 Answer 1


The only elements of such a work that would be protected by copyright are the contemporary creative aspects. That would include (recently) added commentary, concordance or artwork. Presenting a work in a new file format does not constitute a creative addition, so there is no protection for the PDFness of a public domain work.

  • Thank you. I was pretty sure that is the case but I wanted to double check. Do I need to include their PDF notice? I will not be using Haiola and XeLaTeX. Sep 7, 2019 at 20:56
  • @J.Salsbery Careful: Read what user6726 wrote. Copying added commentary etc. will be copyright infringement. It doesn't matter whether there is a copyright notice or not.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 8, 2019 at 14:52
  • It does not contain commentary, except for the comment about the creation of the PDF. No name or other identification. It is not a scan, so must have been typeset independently. I wanted to add commentary, change the font. I guess I better not use it. Sep 9, 2019 at 11:58

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