There is a website that hosts text for a book I am interested in which is in the public domain. The website has a standard copyright icon on the bottom with the text "All Rights Reserved". Can I copy the text for the book and distribute it for commercial purposes?

From looking at similar questions, my guess is that the website can not lay copyright claim to the original work, of course, but I can't really tell if they have made any sort of original contribution to what they are hosting which could lead to copyright infringement if I did copy it.

1 Answer 1


You can use the text

The text is public domain, but the particular composition (font, layout, colour, columnation etc.) are literary and artistic choices of the web page owner and they own the copyright in those.

For example, the text of David Coperfield is in the public domain, but an eBook, pdf, or printed copy of David Coperfield has elements that are not. Similarly, if someone decided that they didn't like chapter 3 and rewrote it, then that would not be public domain either.

  • 1
    I guess part of the problem I am facing is that I don't have assurance that there was not modification to the original work to constitute the text as a derivative work? If I knew there was not this modification, I could use it, but if there was modification, then I couldn't use it. Is that analysis correct? I'm kinda basing it off of: law.stackexchange.com/questions/59805/…
    – jshackle
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 2:06
  • @jshackle Can you compare the text to a different source of the same material? If both texts are digital, one possibility is to use a text comparison program that highlights differences. In Unix parlance, such a comparison procedure on text is called "word based diff" or "word diff". If you look for this, you might find some hints. There are also so-called "plagiarism detection tools" that let you give the tool two different texts, and it reports the similarity between those two. That might be a more user friendly option if you are not used to using Unix or low-level text processing tools.
    – Brandin
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 10:14
  • @Brandin Great suggestion, I can definitely do that for texts where I do have multiple digital texts available. I might not have that for all of them, but I was reading a bit more into the issue, and it seems like the standard for original work is relatively high. So, the difference between the original and uploaded versions would have to be quite significant and likely very noticeable for it to be protected.
    – jshackle
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 18:39
  • A tool like word-based diff will highlight each difference for you, so that you can make that assessment yourself. For example, if one version uses "colour" and the other version uses "color", for example, then each time that word appears, they would be highlighted. Then you could make the assessment that it's not a creative change, just a different spelling choice, for example. For plagiarism detection tools, I'm not sure what the tool would do. Some tools might have an option to show you the exact places where things are similar and different, others might simply give you a score.
    – Brandin
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 10:29

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