Let's start with the disclaimer: I'm not a legal expert, so take any
advice here with care and do get a legal opinion.
A I read it, if the memoirs were NOT published, per your comment, then
copyright almost certainly lies with the estate of the author,
probably the children and grandchildren to whom you refer. Copyright
does not exist with the owner of the materials, it lies with the
estate. (Thus libraries which own unpublished materials still in
copyright do not own the copyright:
Rules Governing the Use of Manuscripts and Archival Materials
<http://www.pitts.emory.edu/Archives/ptl_rules.html> This according to
US copyright law).
However, copyright in unpublished materials created before 1989
extends to at least year 2039.
"Manuscripts which have not been published
"Unpublished manuscripts with an author created before 1989 remain in
copyright until at least 2039 and until at least 70 years after the
death of the author (whichever is the later date). Where such works
are 100 years old and the author has been dead for 50 years, the work
may nevertheless be reproduced by the Library for the purposes of
research or private study or with a view to publication. Permission
for publication itself however must be sought from the copyright
owner." fom the British Library pages cited in my earlier comment, at
This is confirmed by The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their
Copyright Holders)at <http://tyler.hrc.utexas.edu/>. It's a US URL,
but they refer to British law.
Thus, if you can persuade the copyright owners to assign copyright to
you, or alternatively allow you to quote extensively from the memoirs,
then you can claim copyright in the new work, and copyright in the
original should still exist until 2039.
The matter of copyright in the original unpublished mauscripts which
are then published could, of course, be a more contentious issue.
Hope that answers the quesion, but as I say, if you do take this
further,do get sound legal advice!
Google search : "unpublished materials" copyright
Request for Answer Clarification by
11 Sep 2003 12:03 PDT
Many thanks for your answer.
However, as I stated in my Question, the memoirs WERE published in
London in 1928, the year that the author died.
My comment stated that the memoirs were not published elsewhere.
Sorry for the confusion.
Not to worry though ... I never knew the implications of unpublished
But, in this case, (though not relevant), I would not know where to
find his descendants, if any.
So there you are ... you've gone beyond the call of duty.
Clarification of Answer by
11 Sep 2003 23:20 PDT
Hello again, Bryan,
Wow! the intricacies of copyright!
I'm sorry I mis-read your earlier statement - but the fact that the
memoirs really were published does, I think, make the book's position
and your position clearer.
I'll go back to my original comment: copyright in this work lapsed 70
years after the author's death; the work is now in the public domain.
Anything you add, your photographic plates if you make a facsimile
edition, your notes and comments if you preface or intersperse the
text in a new edition, is your work and therefore copyright, but the
text as written by the original author remains in the public domain.
It might be worth considering the rarity of these memoirs : "I have a
copy of some very rare memoirs". Are the memoirs rare because not
many copies of these memoirs are now available as there was, and is,
not a lot of interest? Or is it the edition itself that is rare, as
in a book widely available but this particular edition is not easily
found, it had only a limited or short print run?
"Now, supposing I were to reprint these
" you say. If the memoirs
are rare because there is not too much interest, then presumably there
would not be a lot of interest by anybody wanting to "rip them off"?
On the other hand, if it's a rare edition of a widely available text,
then your market could possibly be those interested in facsimile
reproductions. I have just taken a look at some Dover publications:
Dover is a publisher which specialises in reprinting editions of
works, sometimes still in copyright and sometimes out of copyright.
This is an American firm, but the copyright principle almost certainly
applies in UK.
It would appear that Dover attributes copyright to the original author
or publisher for those works still in copyright (as in: "This Dover
edition, first published in 1988
Copyright 1948 by the McGraw-Hill
Book Company"); but generally claims no copyright itself for works in
the public domain ("This Dover edition, first published in 1989, is an
unabridged repubication of the work first published in London ca.
1707"). They claim copyright for collections, as in their collections
of art and patterns, but often allow free reproduction without special
permission of a limited number of pages. Just to prove there is
nothing fixed about this, I also have Dover's 1965 republication of an
1859 work, in which they do claim copyright. Of course, copyright
laws may have been amended since; another Dover republication, dated
1975 and of a 1906 original, makes no copyright claim.
I think then, that you won't be able to establish copyright if you
reprinted the memoirs. Any value to you probably lies not in the
copyright but in the rarity value of the edition. I also think you
might seek the advice of a Dover editor, or perhaps of an independent
literary agent - and failing that, a copyright lawyer!
Hope this now answers the question, but again come back to me if it
All best wishes, r2l