Items Now Out of Copyright
For the past few years, every January 1st has been a celebration for authors, musicians, and artists. A new swath of stories and music has become copyright-free, as the copyright expires. Until now, this event hasn’t been widely known about and I was able to get a bunch of the books republished quickly on Amazon before anybody else did. Nowadays, though, the media really plays up the event. So when I went to publish my book of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, just 5 days into its “release”, there were already 3 other copies of it online that had been published on January 1st :). So it goes to show, you have to be quick now to grab your chance.
First, the basics. Items come out of copyright on a yearly basis, not as of the actual month and day of publication. Maybe it’s too tricky to figure out more granular detail. So on January 1 2022, anything published in 1926 or before is now free game for use. Here’s the lists, down at the bottom under “United States”.
So Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope, and more.
So it’s not that you can publish Winnie-the-Pooh and claim YOU wrote it. That would be wrong :). However, you could write your own story set in the Pooh world, using Pooh characters, and that is fine. You have the right to use that environment. Also, you could simply republish Milne’s book as-is, listing him (properly) as the author. In essence you’d be like Penguin or Random House or all those other companies that publish old books. You take the book, you make a cover, and you publish it.
You can see where I did that with e. e. cumming’s book Tulips and Chimneys:
I also did it with Pablo Neruda’s Crepusculario –
So in those two cases I simply republished an existing book to get sales with it. In the end area of the book I promote my own books, so it’s free advertising for me.
I’ve also written ‘fresh versions’ of some out-of-copyright stories, such as my version of Pride & Prejudice –
It’s important to pay attention to precisely WHAT has come out of copyright. For example with Winnie-the-Pooh, that first book has Pooh but it DOES NOT HAVE TIGGER. So Tigger as a character is still under copyright as he was introduced in a later year.
If you’re releasing your own version of the story, like my twist on Pride & Prejudice, the only reason that you’d want to get it out “quickly” is because other people probably are going to be posting their own versions, and you want to be ahead of that flood. If you post your take on Pooh when there are 800 other Pooh-versions already out there, it will be hard to be found.
If you are releasing a REPUBLISH of the exact story, like in my Crepusculario situation, you want to get your Kindle version in FIRST. The reason is that Amazon doesn’t want 800 copies of the exact same book in their Kindle library. It would lead to confusion and chaos. So whoever gets their Kindle version of a given book loaded first gets “first dibs”. Theirs is the only Kindle version. Nobody else can load a straight-copy-of-the-book Kindle version. However, people are allowed to load annotated versions and illustrated versions. So in that situation you’d either have to annotate the book with notes or add some illustrations to it. Over the years I’ve done both of those things.
It is well worth getting a classic book into Amazon. I still regularly get sales on my public-domain poetry books like Tulips and Chimneys. There are always people interested in reading those classics, and if they find my version, I get the sales with pretty much no effort.
In general I never try to go after the ‘big books’ like Winnie-the-Pooh. I figure there are too many people fighting for that book. I tend to go for the poetry books which are more work to format and less “popular”. I figure those give me the best chance of being the first to publish.
What I ended up doing with the Dorothy Parker poetry book today, once I realized I wasn’t going to grab the “prime spot” with my Kindle version, was to toss in 10 illustrations. Now my book is an illustrated copy and can go up into Amazon. I then set the price to 99 cents to undercut the 3 other copies which are $2.99 and $3.99. That should still get me sales and ‘free money’ for just a few hours of formatting work.
Ask with any questions about how any of this works. The copyright-release cycle creates a great resource for authors, artists, and musicians.