Pssssssst! Hey you!
Wanna buy a book?
Um, excuse me… quit looking at my trench coat like that! My eyes are up here!
You said you want a book right?
When was it published? Was it before 1923? Because if it is, you know you don’t have to buy it to read it, right?
No, I’m serious! Don’t look so incredulous! Yes, copyright is still most definitely a thing, but one of the characteristics of copyright in the United States is that it doesn’t last forever; it expires. (Unless, of course, the work's estate figures out a way to get around it.)
It’s called…. The Public Domain!
Anything published before 1923 is in it. In the public domain, you don’t need to get permission to use a work someone else made, and you don’t really need to pay to read it, either. You can slap those words or that image on anything you want! T-shirts! Mugs! Book bags! Buttons! You can tattoo it anywhere, too! No no, I don’t need to see, I’m sure it’s lovely…
There’s tons of great stuff in the public domain.
The Wizard of Oz, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes stories, Frankenstein, Edgar Alan Poe’s writings, there’s so much!
If you want to get started reading some of it, check out Project Gutenberg, opens a new window. They’ve got tons of free ebooks. You can print them, read them on your (or any) computer, copy it as many times as you want, whatever you'd like! (Though maybe not make all those copies, huh?)
Want to discover weird stuff in the public domain you never knew existed? Check out the Public Domain Review, a free online journal that collects some of the most strangely interesting things on its website. For example, this: the world’s first cat video from 1894, opens a new window.
Want to learn even more about the public domain, and how to find materials in it? Check out these books at the library!
—contributed by Victoria Salajko, Library Associate, Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library