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Q: English and/or US copyright law ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: English and/or US copyright law
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: windowlicker-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 16 May 2002 15:52 PDT
Expires: 15 Jun 2002 15:52 PDT
Question ID: 16644
When does the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) go
out of copyright, i.e. when does it become legal to make copies of
this work in its entirety?

I'll accept answers under US or English copyright law.

Additional info: I believe (but can't be sure) that the OED finished
being published in 1928.
Subject: Re: English and/or US copyright law
Answered By: larre-ga on 16 May 2002 22:01 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello! Thanks for trying Google Answers.

I'll be happy to give you general and some specific information
relating to the copyright held by Oxford University Press for the
Oxford English Dictionary, but bear in mind, only the US Copyright
office, as the official record keeping body, can provide truly
accurate information on US copyright status. You may, by the way,
choose to have the Copyright Office investigate the copyright status
of a work by following directions on the printable form available at:

[ ]

The Oxford English Dictionary Publication History

Publication date: 1884-1928 in 128 fascicles. Published in 10 volumes
in 1928, reissued in 12 volumes in 1933, with addition of one-volume

The OED was conceived in 1858 as a project of the Philological Society
of England. Publication began in 1884 and has continued for more than
a century to 1989. Sir James Murray, the first editor of the OED,
built a "Scriptorium" to hold the more than two tons of paper slips
that constituted the raw material of the Dictionary. From the
beginning, OED has been a compilation of the work of many
professionals and volunteers. It may in fact be, one of the first Open
Source projects. The complete first edition was published in 1928. In
1972 a 4-volume Supplement began publication.

The Second Edition, published in 1989, consolidates the first edition,
the 4-volume Supplement, as well as 5,000 new words.

Oxford University Press copyrights its major works internationally,
including the UK and US.

On US Copyrights in General:

"Works Published and Copyrighted before January 1, 1978

A work published before January 1, 1978, and copyrighted within the
past 75 years may still be protected by copyright in the United States
if a valid renewal registration was made during the 28th year of the
first term of the copyright. If renewed by registration or under the
Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 and if still valid under the other
provisions of the law, the copyright will expire 95 years from the end
of the year in which it was first secured.

Therefore, the U. S. copyright in any work published or copyrighted
prior to January 1, 1923, has expired by operation of law, and the
work has permanently fallen into the public domain in the United
States. For example, on January 1, 1997, copyrights in works first
published or copyrighted before January 1, 1922, have expired; on
January 1, 1998, copyrights in works first published or copyrighted
before January 1, 1923, have expired. Unless the copyright law is
changed again, no works under protection on January 1, 1999 will fall
into the public domain in the United States until January 1, 2019."

"Works First Published or Copyrighted between January 1, 1923, and
December 31, 1949, and Registered for Renewal

When a valid renewal registration was made and copyright in the work
was in its second term on December 31, 1977, the renewal copyright
term was extended under the latest act to 67 years. In these cases,
copyright will last for a total of 95 years from the end of the year
in which copyright was originally secured. Example: Copyright in a
work first published in 1925 and renewed in 1953 will expire on
December 31, 2020."

And: Derivative Works:

"In examining a copy (or a record, disk, or tape) for copyright
information, it is important to determine whether that particular
version of the work is an original edition of the work or a "new
version." New versions include musical arrangements, adaptations,
revised or newly edited editions, translations, dramatizations,
abridgments, compilations, and works republished with new matter
added. The law provides that derivative works, published or
unpublished, are independently copyrightable and that the copyright in
such a work does not affect or extend the protection, if any, in the
underlying work. Under the 1909 law, courts have also held that the
notice of copyright on a derivative work ordinarily need not include
the dates or other information pertaining to the earlier works
incorporated in it. This principle is specifically preserved in the
present copyright law. Thus, if the copy (or the record, disk, or
tape) constitutes a derivative version of the work, these points
should be kept in mind:

* The date in the copyright notice is not necessarily an indication of
when copyright in all the material in the work will expire. Some of
the material may already be in the public domain, and some parts of
the work may expire sooner than others.

* Even if some of the material in the derivative work is in the public
domain and free for use, this does not mean that the "new" material
added to it can be used without permission from the owner of copyright
in the derivative work. It may be necessary to compare editions to
determine what is free to use and what is not.

* Ownership of rights in the material included in a derivative work
and in the preexisting work upon which it may be based may differ, and
permission obtained from the owners of certain parts of the work may
not authorize the use of other parts."

From US Government Online Publication Information Circular 22:
How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work

- - - - - - - - - -

Under these doctrines, the copyright of the First Edition of the
Oxford English Dictionary, published and presumably copyrighted in
1928, renewed in 1956, will tentatively expire on December 31, 2023,
however due to the consolidation into the 2nd Edition, and the
copyright provisions applicable to that edition, including the 2nd
Edition of the Oxford English Diectionary Online ( copyright notice: [ ] )including use of partial content,
the work is not likely to enter the public domain in its entirety
until far into the future, if at all.

Applicable Copyright and Intellectual Property information on the

Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
Paris Act of July 24, 1971(as amended on September 28, 1979). Text and
Signatory Parties:

[ ]

The Copyright Law of the United States of America in PDF or HTML

[ ]

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 (Adobe PDF format):

[ ]

World Intellectual Property Organization:

[ ]

Search terms used:
"copyright expiration"
copyright law
"oxford english dictionary" "first edition"

Further Source:
The Expiration of Copyright Protection: Survey and Analysis of U.S.
Copyright Law for Identifying the Public Domain - White Paper, Kenneth
D. Crews, Professor, University of Indiana School of Law,
Indianapolis, Indiana, April 30, 2001.
[ ]

Additional Web Directory Information may be found at:

I hope this provides the information you are seeking. If you would
like clarification of any portion of this answer, just ask.


Request for Answer Clarification by windowlicker-ga on 17 May 2002 16:53 PDT

Many thanks for the quick response. I don't really require a
clarification but was wondering whether you knew of a source similar
to the one you cite (
where I can obtain an authoritative answer for the UK case?


Clarification of Answer by larre-ga on 17 May 2002 22:09 PDT

The basics of U.K. Copyrights are explained in these document by the
Patent Office:

Copyright Basics:

[ ]

and more specifically, Copyright Ownership:

[ ]

In simplest terms, U.K. copyrights last for 70 years after the death
of the author.

The principle legislation covering U.K. copyrights is the Copyrights,
Designs and Patents Act of 1988. The full text of the Act may be read

A printed booklet entitled: "The law of copyright and rights in
performances" may be obtained from:

The British Copyright Council
Copyright House
29-33 Berners Street

You'll find contact information for The Patent Office here:

[ ]

The only downloadable information available seems to be a PDF file
titled: "Looking after your ideas".

[ ]

It's a very colorful two-page document, however offers no additional
information to that contained in the site's general introduction and
descriptions of services.

Two additional resources might be useful:

Hope this helps!


Clarification of Answer by larre-ga on 17 May 2002 22:30 PDT
I'd wager that very detailed information could be obtained directly
from Oxford University Press.

Customer Service in the U.K.

A full listing of contact addresses and telephone numbers in the U.K.
is available at:

[ ]

windowlicker-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Very full answer, helpful clarification, and references for further research.

There are no comments at this time.

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