So you want to distribute books that are in the public domain? Well with StreetLib you can*. But you must absolutely read this article BEFOREHAND to make sure you don't break any laws.
Here are a few tips for publishing public domain books:
1) Check that the content is in the public domain
The first thing you must verify is that the book and its content is in the public domain. This means that the exclusive intellectual property (IP) rights have expired or been forfeited.
We say content because it is not only the text that is covered by IP rights, but also the cover, any images and the translation.
Different countries have different laws regarding when works enter the public domain
You must therefore check the specific laws for each country where you want to publish the book.
The most common way for books to fall into the public domain is through the expiration of the copyright. Wikipedia has a good page listing the copyright expiration for each country. However, we recommend you check the official sites for each country to be sure.
Here are a few useful links to help you with your search:
- Copyright terms in the USA
- UK copyright service
- EU public domain calculator
- Google: simply type the title + public domain and see the results. Remember to stick to official sites
BEWARE: Just because the copyright SHOULD have expired, doesn't mean it has. You must check for each individual title.
Translations are subject to their own copyright which is owned by the translator.
2) Know the public domain rules for each individual bookstore
Now that you know in which countries you can publish your book without breaching copyright laws, you must comply with each bookstore's terms and conditions.
Please check the T&Cs for each store, as they may differ. Here is a quick recap of two of the major stores:
Amazon has very specific rules regarding public domain books. If you want your books to be published there, they must meet their requirements:
- The book version you publish has to be differentiated from an original version, in at least one of these ways:
- (Translated) — A unique translation
- (Annotated) — Contains annotations (unique, hand-crafted additional content including study guides, literary critiques, detailed biographies, or detailed historical context)
- (Illustrated) — Includes 10 or more unique illustrations relevant to the book
- The book, meeting these criteria must include (Translated), (Annotated), or (Illustrated) in the title field
"Content comprised predominantly of public domain material is not accepted due to its widespread duplication. Multiple versions of the same book confuse our users and provide little distinguishing value."
Therefore, when you tick the box on StreetLib to certify that it is a public domain book, it will not be published on Google Play.
3) Follow general ethics
There are a few standards codes and practices that we recommend you follow when publishing a book that is in the public domain:
a) Create your own book files
You should take the original text and format the eBook or Paper book yourself. There are great tools online to do so, such as of course our very own, and completely free, StreetLib Write. Do not simply download the free ePub and upload it as your own. Why?
- The main reason is that the ePub you downloaded may be horrible. Why resell it when you can get a beautiful book file with a little bit of work.
- You also need to be sure that all the content is in the public domain. There might be images inside to which you don't own the rights.
- And finally, because it’s only right to do the publisher’s work if you intend to be a publisher: formatting is part of that
Plus, think about how you can let set your creativity free. You could create a unique collection, and thus have something special to promote amidst the whole pool of public domain publishers around the world.
b) Choose your own cover image. Yes, the law allows you to use the same stock images or non-proprietary pictures as another publisher doing the same thing you’re doing with the exact same book. However, that’s not the best decision:
- Firstly, that’s not too clever because you aren’t retaining your audience who won’t be able to distinguish you from another publisher (and thus may not choose you for the next book). So, business-wise I wouldn’t advise it.
- Then, it’s just not right. If you are committing to create a book collection, actually create. You may not be the creator of the content of the books, but there is a huge place for your creativity. Enjoy it and choose a picture or image you think depicts the book you are publishing. Maybe even work with a cover designer and guide their art towards what you are looking for and imagining (if you want an inspirational pep-talk on designing covers I highly recommend Chip Kidd’s Ted Talk).
c) Create your own cover layout (follow-up on the previous point).
You can’t actually reproduce a cover layout (the fonts chosen, the colors applied, the elements on the cover, etc.) as it may well be protected by its own copyright. Plus, once again, let your creativity shine.
If there is one thing you should take away from this article, it is this: don’t ever publish a book unless you are 100% sure you have the right to do so.
*It appears that the book you want to publish is not copyrighted. Therefore, when publishing your book, you must select "Yes" in the "Public domain" field. Next to that, you will see the “User Rights”. Even if it is in the public domain, you should select "I am the author of the book" if you have made some significant changes to the original work (e.g. your book is a commented or illustrated version, or if you are publishing a translation and you are the translation).
This information is necessary for us to correctly create your invoice and send the right information to stores. For instance, some stores like Google Play do not publish books with expired copyrights. We thus use the “public domain” flag to sort which books to send them. Similarly, taxation on your royalties may vary if you are the author of a book or publishing the book of someone else.
It is thus important to provide us with accurate information.