|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:
- The work was originally published without copyright
- 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
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- (Unpublished materials)........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
- God and the Groceryman......
- Long Ago Told.....................
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- The work had to have all this BEFORE it was published the
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
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
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
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
This rule does not apply to things Wright wrote before 1923
but did not publish. See Rule 4, below, for a discussion of
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
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
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
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
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 Nolo.com 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
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.