I realize that copyright law is a thorny law issue and even professional lawyers will sometimes throw up their hands in disgust at the twists and turns, but I’m wondering if Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four is in the public domain, or if his estate still controls the rights to the work.
Definitely not in the public domain. I have an edition published within the last year, and the copyright page says: “Copyright renewed Sonia Brownell Orwell, 1977.” Sonia was Orwell’s widow.
And frankly, I think copyright law is fairly straightforward.
Copyright laws in the US are fairly straitghtforward (75 years after the death of the author). I assume 1984 was published first in the UK, and UK copyright laws are (IIRC) not so straightforward, although they are typically 70 years after the death of the author. At any rate, *1984 *is probably still under copyright protection until 2020 in the UK since Orwell died in 1950.
I would call copyright law fairly complicated, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s a table laying out the rules. In some time periods, the clock started ticking with the death of the author. In others, the clock started ticking with the publication of the book.
According to some sources, Nineteen Eighty-Four was published simultaneously in the UK and US, so for US purposes is treated as a US publication. If so, it will remain under copyright in the US until 2044 (95 years after publication), unless the rules are changed before then.