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Harold Bell Wright

The Best Selling American Author 
of the 
Early 20th Century

Copyright Information

Harold Bell Wright writes while horse watches over his shoulder
Public Domain or Protected by Copyright?

If a work, that is a book, story, picture, composition, sculpture, etc., is protected by copyright that means the right to make copies is the private property of the person who holds the copyright, usually the person who created the work.  No one else can copy it without the permission of the owner except for what is called "fair use."  Copying what someone else holds the rights to without their permission is stealing. Examples of fair use are the short quotations found in book reviews, term papers, and other books.

Many works are in the Public Domain, which means the public owns the right to make copies, not any individual, family, or corporation.  Works that are in the public domain can be copied by anyone, in part, or in their entirety.  You or anyone else can reprint them and sell them for profit or use them the same as if you owned them--except, of course, that you cannot ethically claim them as your own work.  Works are most often in the public domain because either:

  1. The work was originally published without copyright protection, or...
  2. Copyrights are granted for a set length of time, and that time has expired.

Harold Bell Wright's first ten books are in the public domain, no longer protected by copyright. Those books include:

  • That Printer of Udell's
  • The Shepherd of the Hills
  • The Calling of Dan Matthews
  • The Uncrowned King
  • The Winning of Barbara Worth
  • Their Yesterdays
  • The Eyes of the World
  • When a Man's a Man
  • The Recreation of Brian Kent
  • Helen of the Old House

Wright's last nine books should be (if proper renewals were filed) protected by copyright until 95 years after the date they were published. The Wright family does defend their copyrights. Only a copyright search can determine if each of these particular titles is or is not protected by copyright. See details below. The probably-copyright-protected books include:

  • (Unpublished materials)........
  • The Mine with the Iron Door
  • A Son of His Father..............
  • God and the Groceryman......
  • Long Ago Told.....................
  • Exit.......................................
  • The Devil's Highway.............
  • Ma Cinderella-......................
  • To My Sons-........................
  • The Man Who Went Away...






Chudleigh's Copyright Rules

Rule #1: Anything published - before 1989 - without a copyright notice is probably in the public domain.

Before March 1, 1989 a published work had to meet several requirements to be protected by copyright law. 

  1. The owner had to submit an application (and in recent decades, two copies of the work) to the Library of Congress, along with the required fee.
  2. The work had to have a copyright notice placed in a prominent place near the front of the work. And the notice had to contain three elements: either the word "Copyright" or the copyright symbol , the year of publication, and the name of the owner.
  3. The work had to have all this BEFORE it was published the first time.

The laws have changed, and none of this is true any longer. Every creative work produced after 1989, is automatically protected by copyright law, even if no one files papers and even if there is no copyright notice on the work. But this change is not retroactive, and does not apply to anything by Harold Bell Wright. So if you find a Harold Bell Wright brochure published in, say, 1936, and the brochure did not have a copyright notice on it, you know it was originally in the public domain and it remains there today. Once a work is in the public domain, it can never go back into private ownership.

CAUTION: this rule can be safely applied to any book, which was clearly required to have a notice attached, but it may not apply to a few other items. For example, a Wright book published in 1942 came with a dust jacket. The dust jacket did not have a separate copyright notice but the dust jacket is protected by the book's copyright. The current government copyright brochure (Circular 40) says, " All copyrightable elements that are included in a single unit of publication and in which the copyright claimant is the same may be considered a single work for registration purposes. An example is a game consisting of playing pieces, a game board, and game instructions."

Rule #2: Anything published - before 1923 is in the public domain.

In 1902, 1907, and 1909 when Wright's first three books (That Printer of Udell's, The Shepherd of the Hills and The Calling of Dan Matthews) were printed, copyrights lasted for 28 years and were eligible for a 14-year extension. No later laws modified this. So the last of those three books passed into public domain in 1951.

The remainder of Wright's titles that were published before 1923 are also in the public domain. After 1909 the copyright period was 28 years, plus a 28-year extension, so the last of those titles, Helen of the Old House, which was published in 1921, passed into public domain in 1977.

Wright's one book published in 1923 is protected by copyright until 2018 if proper renewals were filed. That is why The Mine With the Iron Door is not available online. The original 28-year copyright on The Mine With the Iron Door [published late July 1923] extended to July 1951, and the 28-year extension carried it to July 1979. But since all copyright protection extends to the end of the year of expiration, that protection extended to December 31, 1979. That means its copyright still "subsisted" on January 1, 1978, when the renewal extensions automatically became 47 years instead of 28.  So it was copyright protected through 1998, and was included in the extension that became effective October 27, 1998, that extended copyright protection to 95 years from the date of publication.

This rule does not apply to things Wright wrote before 1923 but did not publish. See Rule 4, below, for a discussion of unpublished materials.

Rule #3:  Anything published - after December 31, 1922 is probably protected by copyright.

All Wright's books that were published from 1923 until his death in 1944, were published when the copyright protection lasted for 28 years, plus a 28-year extension, but these books came under the provision of later laws which extended their copyright protection many more years.

The following paragraph, taken from the Library of Congress website, sums up the changes: 

"Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a work was published with a copyright notice or on the date of registration if the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1, 1978... making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75 years.   Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total term of protection of 95 years. [On January 15, 2003 the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the congress to extend copyright protection the additional 20 years to 95 years].

So it is easy to calculate when the copyright expires on any Wright work published after 1922: Just find out which year it was published and add 95 years.

For example, when Long Ago Told was published in 1929, the term of copyright was 28 years, which extended to 1957. The work was eligible for renewal in 1957 for another 28 years--if proper renewal papers were filed. The Wrights say they have verified the copyright was renewed, extending the copyright to 1985. The Copyright Act of 1976 changed the extension from 28 years to 47 years. That means that since Long Ago Told's copyright was renewed in 1957, it's copyright was now automatically extended to 2004.  But Public Law 105-298 (the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act,) dated October 27, 1998, added 20 more years to the copyright protection of any work whose copyright was still valid on that date. That automatically pushed Long Ago Told's copyright protection to 2024.

Perhaps we should note here that the Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect January 1, 1978, also changed the way the duration of new copyrights were figured. Any work published after that date was protected for 50 years beyond the death of the author, later changed to 70 years. Some works are protected even longer than that. But this law does not apply to anything Wright produced because all his works were published long before 1978.

Rule #4: Any creative work Wright produced but did not publish before he died, is protected by copyright until 70 years after his death--2014.

If Wright wrote a story and published it in 1907, it expired 42 years later (28+14). But what if he never published it? When do we starting counting the years of copyright protection? Answer: when the author died, in this case 1944. Wright's unpublished works are protected until 2014.

Obviously that means you can't print and distribute an unpublished poem or short story you find in a library, regardless of when he wrote it. The courts would probably also uphold the copyright protection of unpublished photos from the Wright family files, even if they are more "family record" than creative works.

What about Wright's sketchy sermon notes, such as those found in the Tucson library? The 1976 Copyright law says, "A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication." So the fact that Wright preached the sermon to his congregation, does not mean it was published. But are the sketchy outline notes he wrote and then stashed in his file eligible for copyright protection? The legal site asserts: "To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be 'fixed in a tangible medium of expression.' Virtually any form of expression will qualify as a tangible medium, including ... the scribbled notes on the back of an envelope that contain the basis for an impromptu speech."

So I conclude that no one can publish Wright's sermon notes without permission from Peter Wright, the current owner of Wright's literary estate until 2014. What about publishing your own sermon based on Wright's notes? Since ideas cannot be protected by copyright, you might be okay, but you better ask someone who knows.

Fair-use laws do not generally apply to unpublished materials, so if this provision were applied in its strictest interpretation, we could not even publish short quotations from his unpublished letters and journals without permission from the current owner of Wright's literary estate--Peter Wright.  Obviously, such an interpretation would work contrary to the purpose of putting authors records and journals in libraries, and would nullify the purpose of copyright laws--to encourage scholarship and creativity. For those reasons, in 1991 a court (Wright v. Warner Books, Inc., 953 F.2d 731 (2d Cir. 1991).) ruled that it was fair use for a biographer to use a modest amount of material from unpublished letters and journals by the author Richard Wright [not related to HBW]. I assume the same would apply to Harold Bell Wright's correspondence and journals.

Oh, yes. One more thing. Did I mention that I am not an attorney?  If you plan to publish something that Wright produced, you should contact a copyright attorney to investigate that particular work. And even if it appears clear that the copyright has expired, it would be appropriate to contact the family of Harold Bell Wright. When he died, Wright left his literary properties to Norman Wright, whose family may still be contacted.

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11