I am wondering if books from the communist era in east Europe (specifically Bulgarian books, published around 1981), that are technical in nature and have been published from a state run publishing house, are copyrighted.

What if I am to translate such a book in to English and publish it as my own work (without hiding the fact that it is a translation of the original text), can I sell it or upload it to my website to generate add revenue?

  • Which particular country published the original works?
    – user35069
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 8:12
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    Bulgaria, 1981 year Commented May 20, 2021 at 8:31
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    In general, yes, they are copyrighted. You would have to look at that country's copyright laws to see if they were exempt from copyright, but even if there are such exceptions they usually only cover certain institutions, not all state-owned enterprises.
    – amon
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 9:51
  • I think in the USA where some documents produced by the state at tax payers expense can be copied legally, they are still under copyright but have a license allowing the copying.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:00
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    @grovkin Technically it is the same state even though fundamentally it has changed. Russia is not the same state as USSR, PRC is not the same state as the (original pre-1949) RoC, Islamic Republic of Iran isn't the same as the pre-revolution Iran. But Bulgaria did not end the Communist rule by a revolution with a completely new basis for statehood. The transition was technically done within the PRB framework using the amending procedure in PRB constitution.
    – xngtng
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


The only question that may be disputed is the ownership of those copyrights; the copyright exists as a matter of international law since the 19th century (ca. 1886 depending on the signatory states joining) subject to the Berne Conventional. Bulgaria has been a signatory state in each of its state forms. The point made below is analogously applicable here: Just because the Soviet Union kept Bulgaria under autocratic rules, the cessation of the USSR would not mean the independent state of Bulgaria would be deprived of the copyright subject work of art; it is questionable what will remain with the state, and what could be reclaimed be individuals creating those materials, but it is clear that the copyright protection will not cease.

From the perspective of an author of copyright work of art:

If you can substantiate that you acted outside of your agency under autocratic rule while creating the original, especially, if you were persecuted and/or, in fact, trafficked, in general, I would say you could make a strong claim that you should be allowed at least to use your own work or if such facts are known to a potential claimant (e.g. the Member State of Bulgaria), you probably wouldn't have to worry much as they would likely not attempt to enforce any unjust law as they may end up on the European Court of Justice.

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    I think you are under the impression that the original text is my own work. It is not, I was born 10 years after the book was published. Commented Jul 18, 2021 at 6:00
  • @ViktorChernev Edited further.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 1:11
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    It's far from being the only question. For example, in the United States, any works produced by the Federal Government are exempt from copyright restrictions. If the copyright on the textbooks is held by the Bulgarian state and if, at any point, the laws of Bulgaria made state-owned works similarly exempt from copyright restrictions, then any works whose copyrights became owned, or were already-owned, by the state of Bulgaria would become forever exempt from copyright restrictions. So an answer would require examination of the laws of the state of Bulgaria starting from the publishing date.
    – grovkin
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 17:08
  • Bulgaria was hijacked by the USSR, and the original authors except for those who are exempt from international asylum and refugee protections for partaking in oppression or partaking without such extent of coercion as be excused are, arguably, acted under coercion including in the creation of such works of art. And although this theory probably makes the matter rather complex, I lean on even saying that a substantial part of those copyrights go to their rightful owners as provided by internationally law regardless of their recognition by then or today's Bulgaria.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 17:18
  • The last comment sounds like it's a good time to post a reminder that this site is for q&a about what the law happens to be, not what is should be. "Bulgaria was hijacked by the USSR" is not a legal concept that currently exists.
    – grovkin
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 0:34

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