Date of certain public domain poetry

If I wanted to be certain that some poetry I wanted to use for some calligraphy was i the public domain, what would the date of the death of the author have to be? (Or is it the date of the publication?) Does this vary by the author’s location (nation) when the work was published? Or what if publishers own the initial rights? Do they ever expire?


Per the US Copyright Office’s website (at ):
If the poetry was written and published before Jan 1 1978, the copyright was good for 28 years, with an option to renew for an additional 28 years (extended to 47 years in 1976 and to 67 years in 1992). So the copyright was in effect for 28 years (if not renewed), 56 years (if renewed), 75 years (if copyright was still in effect or restored in 1976) or 95 years (if copyright was still in effect in 1992).
If it was written before Jan 1 1978 and never published OR written after Jan 1 1978, the term is life of the author plus 70 years.
See for the details.

Oh, and yes, the author’s nation will affect the copyright term length. If the nation is a member of the Berne Convention, the term lengths will be similar to those of the US. There’s a bit about the Berne Convention on this page of the US Copyright Office’s site. And some more about the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention here .

So for something to still be under copyright now, and the author is alive, it would have to have been first copyrighted 56 years before 1976 to be sure. That would be 1919. Hmm, doubt that person is alive unless they were a child poet.

So as long as it was first copyrighted before 1919 or the author is over 70 years dead, I’m golden?

The dates are complicated by the changes in copyright law: once something goes into PD, it remains there, even if the term of copyright changes.

In the US, anything published before 1923 is in public domain.

Works published between 1923 and 1963 may or may not be in public domain. If the copyright was renewed, they’re still under copyright. If they were published without a legal copyright notice, they’re in the public domain. You’d have to look up the work and see if it’s still under copyright.

Anything published between 1963 and 1977 is still under copyright unless there was no legal copyright notice. Most likely, there was, so you can figure these are copyrighted.

1978 or later is copyrighted.

See this for information.

So, WB Yeats died in 1939. Thus, some of his work is likely PD and some might still be under copyright. Correct? As long as it was first copyrighted before '23, it MUST be PD?

I’d suggest looking in the archives of Project Gutenberg. You can be reasonably sure that any of his works listed there are in the public domain.

Great idea. Thanks.

If first publication was in the US, probably yes. If first publication was in England or Ireland, their laws would apply, and I’m not familiar with them.

Yeats falls under European harmonized copyright law, with a duration of 70 years after the author’s death. So, no go until 2009.

Incidentally, in 1989 the duration was only 50 years, so at that time it did become ‘free’. A few years later the duration was extended to 70 years and his estate could again exercise copyright.

Interesting on the reassertion of copyright on what was public domain. I guess that doesn’t fly in the US.

New twist on the original question: Do all the same rules apply to a translation of somebody’s work that is in the public domain? How much of a public domain poem in a recent translation (see Lao Tzu) can I use before it’s beyond fair use? Is it the same “amount” as if it were a new poem?