“How can I release a book into the public domain?”

“How can I release a book into the public domain?”

Q –

Hi Angela,

I have a question regarding my deceased aunt’s copyrights on three books. When I googled my question, one of the first links was to your article titled When Authors Die…What Happens To Their Books?, which was basically in the same ballpark, but didn’t address my concerns.

She published each book through a different self-publisher: Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and iUniverse.

One of the big concerns I’ve had since my college years has been the effects of the 1978 and 1998 changes to copyright law that have almost guaranteed that works published since 1922 are destined to vanish into the ash heap of history as their last physical copies moulder away before they enter the public domain. What I want to do is put my aunt’s three books into the public domain now, and make them available through digital preservation efforts such as Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. To do that, it seems I first need to prove that I actually have the right to donate them.

My aunt was never married, never had children, and left everything to her brother’s four children, (i.e. me and my siblings, who all agreed that it would be a nice tribute to preserve her books for posterity like this).

However, my sister, the executor, doesn’t know how to figure out the status of my aunt’s copyrights.

Can you tell me what I need to do to assert ownership of her copyrights, or to find out what their current status is?

J.


A –

There are a variety of reasons why someone might want to release a book into the public domain. Some are similar to yours. Another reason would be for a book meant to promote a specific company or individual. Giving away free content like this can serve as a promotional opportunity…provided the book was written to drive people to purchase a specific, and more expensive, product or service, and not to generate book sales. Some firms publish biographies of their CEO, or books about the history of a company, or even how-to books to spur readers to buy products used in those how-to projects…products developed by the firms publishing those books. 

The first step would be to contact Author Solutions, which owns iUniverse, Xlibris, and AuthorHouse (yes, they’re all basically the same company…and there are LOTS of complaints about them online, unfortunately). See if they registered the copyright. They are probably going to require proof that our aunt has passed and they will likely only speak with the executor of her estate.

If the publisher did not register the copyrights, your aunt may have done so herself so check with the Library of Congress. Go here: https://www.copyright.gov/rrc

Once there, click on Certificates of Registration.

Information on donating works to the public domain can be found RIGHT HERE.

If you need copyrighting services, check out the WritersWeekly Author Service Center.

IF YOU HAVE EXPERIENCES RELATED TO COPYRIGHTS OF A DECEASED AUTHOR’S BOOKS, please share your experiences in the comments box below.

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