Copyright and Public Domain

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Public Domain & LibriVox

Copyright gives an individual or corporation exclusive rights on a text for a limited period of time. This means that no one else can reproduce the text or make derivative works (such as audio recordings) while the copyright is in force. Eventually, though, copyright expires, and the text enters the "public domain". This means that anyone can use the text however they wish.

LibriVox takes texts already in the public domain, asks volunteers to make audio recordings of that text, and then releases the resulting audio back into the public domain.

This means that if you volunteer to record for LibriVox, you are agreeing to release the audio files you make into the public domain. This means that anyone can use those audio files however they wish.

In addition, book summaries, CD cover art, and any other material that goes into our catalog with the audio recordings are in the public domain.

Why we use Public Domain (and not, for instance, Creative Commons).

However They Wish?

What does "however they wish" mean, exactly? People may use our recordings to profit; they may remix them into other projects; they do not need to give credit to the individual reader/writer/creator or to !LibriVox. Anyone may do all kinds of things with LibriVox recordings. Some we might "approve of," and other things we might prefer them not do - but Public Domain means that just about anyone can do what they like with the recordings. Here are some things that we know people have done with LibriVox recordings:

  • used the LibriVox recordings in YouTube videos
  • remixed LibriVox recordings into music, and sold the recordings
  • remixed LibriVox recordings into music, and gave the recordings away
  • used LibriVox recordings in art installations
  • made CDs of LibriVox books, and sold them on ebay (see here for discussions about LibriVox and Ebay)
  • used LibriVox recordings in non-commercial educational projects
  • used LibriVox recordings in commercial educational projects

Some other examples of things that might happen (but has not, to our knowledge happened):

  • CDs of Romance of Rubber sold as a fundraiser for a charity you don't like;
  • The summary of Frankenstein used to promote a major motion picture;
  • Fables for the Frivolous sampled into a violent rap song;
  • Origin of the Species as background atmosphere for a pornographic film;

Although these examples are far-fetched, they are all acceptable uses of public domain materials. So be aware of what you are doing when you free your recordings, text and images into the public domain. You really have to let go!

LibriVox primarily uses etexts already added to Project Gutenberg. However, other works may be recorded for LibriVox if appropriate documentation of the item's copyright status can be shown.

Determining Copyright Status in the United States

Please note: Works published outside the US must have been published in 1922 or earlier to be included in our catalog. The US copyright status of works published in other countries after 1922 is difficult to determine. Exception: if Project Gutenberg has already determined a non-US publication to be public domain in the US, then we will accept it.

Follow these steps to determine if a work is in the Public Domain in the United States and can be recorded for LibriVox:

1. Is this a published work?
  • If Yes: Continue to next step.
  • If No: We're sorry, but we cannot include your recording at this time. LibriVox is currently only accepting recordings of published works.

2. Has the copyright status already been cleared by Project Gutenberg?

3. In what year was the work originally published?

4. Was the work originally published in 1977 or earlier?
  • If No: We're sorry, but we cannot include your recording in LibriVox at this time.
  • If Yes: Continue to next step.

5. Was the work originally published in 1949 or earlier?

6. Was the copyright renewed in the 28th year following the publication of the original?
  • Check the copyright renewal records of years X+26, X+27, years X+28, and years X+29 (X=Original Pub. Date) on the University of Pennsylvania Catalog of Copyright Entries
  • If Yes: We're sorry, but we cannot include your recording at this time... but we might be able to 95 years after the original publication date (somewhere between 2018 & 2044).
  • If No: Start recording!

We have more detailed information about copyright rules in the US and elsewhere.

Online Resources used in this section

  • David's In-Progress List (by author's last name)
    • (Please note: Books released by Project Gutenberg Australia have an A after their release number and are not usually public domain under US copyright law.)

Submitting a Copyright Clearance Request to Project Gutenberg

If you have a work that you would like to record that is not yet in Project Gutenberg, please submit a copyright clearance request with them to verify the copyright status.

Here's how:

  • Go to:
  • Login (or get username if new to PG)
  • Select the button next to "Submit a new clearance request" and click "Go!"
  • Enter the following information about the book in the form
  • Title
  • Subtitle (if applicable)
  • Main language
  • Author or creator name
  • Other contributors names (if applicable)
  • Publisher business name
  • Publication location
  • Publication dates
  • Page scans (title page and verso or other pages with publication information)
  • Click "SEND this clearance"
  • Usually within a week, you will receive an email from copyrightATpglafDOTorg notifying you whether or not the request cleared. If it is cleared, a "Clearance OK key" will be included that you can use to submit the full text to Project Gutenberg.

Please note that works published after 1922 must obtain Rule 6 clearance from Project Gutenberg for them to be recorded at LibriVox.

The latest information on how to do this is here:

There is a lot of work you have to do yourself. If you submit an incomplete request it will be rejected. There is only one person who approves Rule 6 requests and he's very busy.

Works that are NOT OK per Gutenberg

(We've already submitted these, and they did not pass clearance):

  • ten Boom, Corrie. Common Sense Not Needed.

Requesting Help from Librivox

You are welcome to research the copyright status of works on your own. If you do, please document every step you have taken to determine whether the work is in the public domain.

However, if you find this process overwhelming, have additional questions, or would just like someone to hold your hand through the process, please create a new topic in the Book Suggestions area of the Librivox Forums, and a volunteer will be able to work with you to submit a request at Project Gutenberg Copyright Clearance Requests.

Please include as much of the following information in your request as you can:

  • In the Subject line: COPYRIGHT? [TITLE], [AUTHOR]
  • Full title
  • Author's name
  • Names of additional authors, translators, editors, or illustrators
  • Publication date(s)
  • Publisher's name and location
  • If published as part of another work, the title of that larger work (i.e. magazine or compilation title)
  • Whether you have a paper copy of this work in-hand.
  • Any URLs of Web sites that you have found with the full-text of the work.
  • Any additional information that you would like to include.

Additional Copyright FAQs

What if I don't live in the United States?

Copyright law varies from country to country. LibriVox follows the copyright laws of the United States because all of our files are hosted with whose servers are located in the US.

Because Librivox's server and files are hosted in the US, we can only include in our Catalog works that are PD in the US. However, some works that are in the Public Domain in the US might not be PD in the reader's country. If you live in a country where a work you wish to record is not in the public domain, and still wish to record it, you might consider not recording your name or drawing attention to your location. Please note that doing so might be a breach of Copyright.

We have been told (by Project Gutenberg) this is a legal grey area, and not clear one way or the other. but we make no particular effort to know where our readers are located, and we keep no record of where our readers were located at the time of recording, and LibriVox cannot guarantee to check the copyright status of a particular work beyound the US which is the area where we must comply.

As long as a book is PD in the US where we have our servers, it satisfies the legal requirements for LibriVox. If a reader in the EU (or elsewhere) feels uncomfortable with this possibly grey legal interpretation, then certainly they should consider another project (one that is definitely PD in EU - or where they are located). We try to alert volunteers from life + x countries in the first post of projects if there are potential copyright issues.

DISCLAIMER: LibriVox makes all efforts to ensure the public domain status of texts in the USA. LibriVox does not, and cannot, ensure the copyright status of texts outside the USA, and so it is up to listeners and readers to assess compliance with laws in their countries. LibriVox encourages all volunteers to abide by the laws of their countries, and cannot be held liable for the volunteer's personal decision to act in breach of their countries' copyright laws.

Copyright laws in countries outside the USA

Most countries outside of the United States have copyright for (the life of the author + x) number of years.

For example, in the European Union it's (life + 70) years. This means that works of authors who were still alive in (today's year - 70) are still under copyright in the EU.

Example: In 2007, works of all authors who died before 1937 are in the public domain in the EU. 2007-70 is 1937.

  • In the European Union and some other places it's (life + 70).
  • In Australia, works by authors who died before 1955 are in the public domain. Works by authors after 1955 are in copyright until (life + 70).
  • In many other countries it's (life + 50).

Additional Information

Why doesn't Librivox use a Creative Commons License?

We had this discussion early on, and decided we didn't want to add any restrictions to the recordings we make, which are based on public domain books. This means others can use our recordings however they wish, including for commercial purposes. We would prefer if people acknowledged us if they do use our recordings, be we can't force them to. This makes some people uncomfortable, but the books we record are public domain, and we want our recordings to be public domain too.

Is it ok for me to record from a later edition or an html version of a public domain text?

Usually, yes. If the original text is in the public domain, you may record from any online text that cites the source from which the text was obtained. Copyright statements often accompany these new Internet versions, but the copyright only applies to the formating and layout of the page. However, if the work has been significantly annotated/edited/altered, the new version does retain a copyright. Please make an attempt to verify the authenticity of the text and its source. Later printed editions of books often include new introductions or prefaces that are still under copyright and may not be recorded.

For more information, please read Project Gutenberg's statement on the topic:

Additional Online Resources