Public Domain -> Ebook = New Copyright?

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  • Hello, I am in the process of turning public domain novels into ebooks with two scenarios:

    1. Public domain text combined with public domain photographs that I have located myself. The photos were NOT part of the original work.

    2. Public domain text with its original illustrations. I have moved, resized, and in some cases re-colored the illustrations.

    Legally, am I able to add my own copyright to these ebooks? I'm thinking that in the first instance, yes, I can add a copyright because I have, in essence, created a new work by combining text and illustrations that weren't used together previously.

    In the second scenario, though, I'm uncertain. Virtually, the book is the same as it was originally published - with only minor changes.

    I plan to sell these ebooks as part of a set of educational materials revolving around the classic novel (now in ebook format). I would like to do what I can to make sure no one redistributes the ebooks I've created, but I'm uncertain where the legality falls.


  • It's not too cut and dried, unfortunately. I think you could make a case for your rearrangement of the material with new illustrations, but probably not for the one where you just do minor alterations to the original illustrations. In either case, it would only be your arrangement that could be copyrighted, so someone else could take that same public domain text and do something entirely different without violating your copyright. Take a look at some of the earlier threads on this forum page about CD-ROMS of public domain books and illustrations in pre-1923 books, and you'll see how complicated it is!

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