Why would a book not have a copyright date? Does that mean it's public domain?

Maybe, but not necessarily. There are a variety of reasons why a book may not list a copyright date.

  • The publisher might have been careless. See, American copyright law used to require notice, which meant including © with the date and name of the copyright owner. Due to pressure from other countries, America finally conformed to the Berne Convention in 1989, eliminating this requirement. So, sometimes books after 1989 just leave that information off.
  • The book could be in the public domain for some reason. Therefore no one would own the copyright to it. The copyright may have expired or the copyright owner may have released it to the public domain, or it may not have been eligible for federal copyright in the first place. Any book published before 1923 is in the public domain, but beyond this quick and easy rule determining if a book is still under copyright can be complicated. Please see our “How Long do Copyrights Last” section for further reference. Our video series also contains a special focus on public domain works.
  • Or maybe, the book was written by the government. Texts written by the federal government are in the public domain in order to encourage creativity, the spread of information, and an open government. States and municipal government documents are not necessarily in the public domain. You can visit the websites of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_legal_codes various state agencies and see their requirements on use of their texts and documents, which differ from state to state and agency to agency. For instance, this does not apply to stamps created by the United States Postal Service

If you are a writer looking to include other works in your book and you’re unsure whether it’s in the public domain or not, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.

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