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Public Domain Question

Ken asks…

If a photo is published before 1923 does that automatically put it in the public domain?

Also, does the rule of copyright of the copyright holder’s lifetime plus 70 years effect this rule?

For example: a photo was publish in 1920 and the photographer died in the 1970s.

Would that photo automatically be in the public domain despite the 2nd rule I listed? Please only answer if you have an understanding of copyright laws. Thanks.

scottparat answers:

The rule for “author’s life (not copyright owner) plus 70 years” only applies to NON-published works prior to 1978 and published works after 1977, in the USA. Other countries have a more general rule about the 70 years p.m.a. (post mortem auteur). The parenthetical reference to “copyright owner”, above, is alluding to the fact that the author is the INITIAL copyright owner but can certainly transfer the copyright to others (and they would be inherited), but the duration does not depend upon who owns it; only on who CREATED (or published) it.

ANYTHING published in the USA prior to 1923 is “public domain” under US copyright law, except sound recordings (which were covered only by state laws until 1972, and there is no expiration for those).

Robert asks…

How do I find out which books are in the public domain?

How would I go about finding which books are currently in the public domain? Obviously I would need somewhere reputable.

scottparat answers:

The easiest way would be to Google the authors name and find out when they died. If they died more than 70 years ago (100 years in USA) then the books in public domain.

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