I read an article that says that copyrights last life of author plus 70 years.

Can I make a derivative work from a book that was written 150 years ago without making a copyright infringement?


I assume you are talking about United States federal copyright law.

You can freely use any:

  • material published before 1923

  • material published between 1923 and 1963 for which the copyright was not renewed

  • material explicitly placed in the public domain

  • material not copyrightable (such as any US government publication)

  • material whose copyright has been abandoned (for example the author died with no heir)

  • AFAIK you can't assume that the work of an author with no heir has been abandoned. By default is it not the property of the author's estate? – feetwet Mar 30 '16 at 18:50
  • 2
    @feetwet If a person dies intestate and with no identifiable heirs then the property is considered to be abandoned and it escheats to the state. However, the state cannot normally exercise such a copyright because it is not in the public interest UNLESS the author owed the state money in which case the government can exploit the copyright to the extent necessary to satisfy the debt. Outside of this situation, normally an abandoned copyright is effectively entered into the public domain. – Cicero Mar 30 '16 at 19:07
  • In practice is there any way to determine the probate outcome of a deceased author, to confirm that his copyrights were abandoned and not left to some beneficiary or transferred to a creditor? – feetwet Mar 30 '16 at 19:30
  • @feetwet Normally the standard practice, when a copyright is transferred to a non-obvious owner, is that the new owner will renew the copyright, which creates a record of their ownership. Of course, there is no compulsion to do this, but in the case of a valuable copyright it will often happen. – Cicero Mar 30 '16 at 19:44
  • @feetwet an author without heirs can transfer the intellectual property rights to a foundation. (So can an author with heirs; Leonard Bernstein is an example.) – phoog Apr 2 '16 at 15:05

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