Illustrate and sell Public Domain Stories?

  • HI all, a serious question. I have had this idea for a long time to illustrate a number of older stories that are in the public domain. Rather than just re-formatting and creating a .mobi file. I would be creating illustrations and essentially creating a new work. I have done some research on project guttenburg t's and c's and looked into amazon reselling of PD content. From what I can tell. If you add value to an existing public domain item, either through repackaging, reformatting or editing you are allowed to charge a price for said item. My question is this: has anyone actually done this before, and if so did you encounter any issues, either legally or otherwise?

  • @RobinSlee I haven't done this, but many have. This is the reason you have so many different versions of Sherlock Holmes, moby dick, and Oz, they're public domain. Barnes and Nobel takes "classics" (works in pd) and slaps a hard cover on them and sells them at a profit. If it's truly public domain work, it is free game to do what you'd like with it.

    There's a difference in when something enters public domain depending on when it was created and if it was created by an individual or corporation. I interviewed a copyright expert and have some videos on the subject if it's helpful

  • @corykerr Thank you very much, these are definately going to get watched tonight! The story I have in mind is one from Brothers Grimm, my confusion comes from the fact that the original version was in german but it was, at some point, translated to english by someone else. Do they now own copyright on the translation? Or should I source the original foreign version and google translate it myself, edit it, illustrate it and then create a 'book' from that instead?

  • @RobinSlee good question. I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I believe the translation would be copyrighted by the translator until its old enough to get into the public domain, BUT only those exact words, not the original ideas/story/etc.

    So I don't think you could copy and paste the text in a recent translation, but you are free to use the story and characters anyway you'd like (and when you do, you'll hold the copyright on your version)

  • @corykerr Makes total sense. I think what I may do is take the 'morale' of the story and try to come up with my own version. This would 1, allow me to change the characters, environment, time etc. 2, avoid any issues with copyright or IP issues. I will give it some more thought and see if I can come up with a new twist on things. I have subscribed to all the courses, so hopefully I can pick up some ideas, advice from watching those too. But, thank you for answering. Regards, Rob.

  • @RobinSlee absolutely. Hit me up anytime. Good luck with your project.

  • SVS OG

    @RobinSlee Public Domain Serpa is pretty informative on this subject too - It looks like Amazon makes it pretty easy to publish public domain books as long as you meet the threshold of adding new content - our new version would fall under the "derivative work" definition i believe - this make it eligible for 35% profit instead of the 70% possible for a completely original work - this sounds bad but really if you look at it you would have to charge a lot more on amazon to to get the 70% profit which i think would really hamper sales of a new iteration of an old work - ..there are other places besides amazon of course but that is where i have looked into this subject - here is the link to the sherpa site - good luck!

  • @Kevin-Longueil Awesome information, and thanks for the link. I am currently reading this post ( and thinking about 'interpreting' the original to avoid the issues mentioned above. Again, thanks for the link 😉

  • SVS OG

    Hi @RobinSlee , I am not sure how applicable this is, but a couple of years ago I created a deck of illustrated playing cards based on the original Peter Pan book by JM Barrie. Even though the book falls into public domain, I had to be really careful because of Disney. In my research I found that as long as my illustrations/product was based solely on the work of JM Barrie and was not influenced by the Disney creations I would be ok. Disney actually licensed the property so they have those rights for their IP in that regard, but others can still use what falls under the public domain.

    The project funded on Kickstarter for over $28k, so this of course could have been contested had the wrong person seen it, but fortunately it was not. Here's a link if you want to check it out:

Log in to reply