Public Domain

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Copyright, Public Domain & LibriVox

Copyright gives an individual or corporation exclusive rights on a text, for a limited period of time. This means no one else can reproduce the text or make derivative works (such as audio recordings) while the copyright is in force. Copyrights are granted for a limited time, and eventually they expire, and the text enters the “public domain.” Meaning anyone can use that text however they wish.

LibriVox records only texts that are in the public domain (in the USA – see below for why), and all our recordings are public domain (definitely in the USA, and maybe in your country as well, see below). This means anyone can use all our recordings however they wish (even to sell them).

In addition, book summaries, CD cover art, and any other material that goes into our catalog with the audio recordings are in the public domain.

More Information

Copyright and Public Domain in the USA
What Can Other People Do with LibriVox Recordings
Why We Use the Laws of the USA
Other Resources


The practical implications of our copyright policies are:

  • if you record for LibriVox, all your recordings will be donated to the public domain
  • you may do whatever you like with our recordings – you don’t need permission
  • in general, we can only record texts published before 1923
  • we cannot record texts that are still under copyright in the USA, but public domain in another country
  • all our recordings are public domain in the USA, but not necessarily in other countries
  • if you are outside the USA, we recommend that you check the copyright status of the work in your country before downloading our recording of it

Copyright and Public Domain (in the USA)

Under US law (under which LibriVox operates), public domain includes all works published before 1923. A work published after 1923 is probably not in the public domain and we probably cannot record it. If a work is published before 1923, then we can record it.

Note also, that a translation is considered a new work, and its copyright status is determined by the year of publication of the translation, not the original work.

Theoretically new works should come into the public domain every year (this is what happens in other countries), however in the United States, a number of copyright laws have been passed extending the copyright term. See the wikipedia article for more info.

For a detailed flowchart of determining public domain, see: copyright flowchart (from law firm, Bromberg & Sunstein).

And for more information, resources, and links see the LibriVox wiki.

What Can Other People Do with LibriVox Recordings

LibriVox recordings are in the public domain, which means people can do anything they like with them. Mostly this just means people can listen to them for free. But it also means they can: sell them (for instance on ebay), broadcast them, put them in commercials, play them at political rallies, chop them up, remix them, make music recordings of them. The recordings are free, and there is no need to credit LibriVox, although of course we much prefer if you do credit us (with a link to our site).

Here are some other examples of what people might do (and would have the right to do) with our recordings (and, if your record for us, your recordings):

  • make CDs of Romance of Rubber sold as a fundraiser for a charity you don’t like;
  • put Origin of the Species as background atmosphere for a pornographic film;
  • sample Fables for the Frivolous in a violent rap song;
  • use the summary of Frankenstein to promote a major motion picture;

Although these examples are far-fetched, they are all acceptable uses of public domain materials. So be aware of what you are doing when you free your recordings and text into the public domain. You really have to let go!

Why We Use the Laws of the USA

LibriVox is an international project, with volunteer readers and listeners from all over the world, and we record and make available texts in many languages. Copyright laws differ from country to country, and a work that is in the public domain in one country is not necessarily public domain in another. Our dependence on US law is a matter of practicalities and the legal suggestions we have received from various people. The main reasons that we must use US laws include:

  • the domain name is registered in the USA
  • our website is hosted in the USA
  • all our audio files are hosted in the USA
  • the vast majority of our source texts come from Project Gutenberg, which does the (arduous) legal work to assure public domain status in the USA.
  • it is impossible for us to verify the copyright status of every work in every country, or even many countries

We do our utmost to ensure that all our recordings are public domain in the USA, and we offer them up to the world for free, but if you are in another country, it’s a good idea to check the status of a particular work before downloading, otherwise you *might* be violating copyright laws.

Other Resources

Copyright law is a complicated and important business, and we encourage everyone to read more about it. Here are some resources:

Browse the catalog