Copyright questions and the legal use of a public domain book (copyright expired)

If a book based on a true story is in the public domain (copyright expired), and the author is dead, there are no living relatives and the publisher is out of business, can I renew the copyright? If a book based on a true story is in the public domain (copyright expired), and the author is dead, there are no living relatives and the publisher is out of business, do I need to ask permission of somebody to write a screenplay? If so, who do I ask? Are there any legal restrictions in the use of a public domain (copyright expired) book based on a true story? For example, the use of the public domain book story and it's characters as a basis for a screen play.


Asked almost 7 years ago in Timberville, Virginia
Categories: Entertainment & Media Law  Patents, Trademarks, Copyright

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James R Coleman

Answer by James R Coleman

VerifiedWorldwide lawyer

If you are certain the copyright has expired and the book is in the public domain, anyone can use the story. In addition, you mention that the story is true. That would mean that the story itself is not a work of authorship. Any act of authorship would be in the words used to describe the event. Think of this: ten reporters witness a fire. They all write stories for different media and describing the fire. Each owns the particular words, etc. used to describe the fire but none can prevent anyone else from describing the fire. On that subject: how do you know it was a true story? In writing your screenplay, avoid copying phrases verbatim. Even though the book is in the public domain, if you are sued, it will be expensive even if you win. Many people sue when they have weak claims using the costs of court to intimidate people out of their rights. Good luck.

Posted almost 7 years ago

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice to you. Legal advice pertaining to your particular situation can only be provided by a lawyer who has met with you to obtain all pertinent background information necessary to give you a formal legal opinion. For formal legal advice, hire a lawyer (many give a free first consultation). Contact James R Coleman, or search the Lawyer Directory.

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