1. Lincoln A

    Lincoln A New Member

    Nov 23, 2020
    Likes Received:

    Can I rewrite and modernize an old book?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lincoln A, Nov 23, 2020.

    I was wondering if it was possible/legal to simplify and add interest to a series of nonfiction books written in the 1870s. The info in them is great and its by a prominent author, but the books are no longer in print and very dense to read. I was thinking about rewriting them in modern language and adding a little spice to add interest, while keeping the integrity of the historical information and authors views. I would of course make it clear that it is a "re-write". I'm interested to hear thoughts on this possibility. Thanks!
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

    Jan 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Rhode Island
    Good question. Someone will be around with a better answer than I, but it sounds like public domain, so you can probably use it, but rewriting the whole thing (even with a disclaimer) and presenting it as your intellectual property? I don't know.

    Paging @Steerpike.
    Lincoln A and Steerpike like this.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
    Likes Received:
    California, US
    Certainly in the public domain in the U.S., and I suspect in most (if not all) other countries. You can do whatever you want with it, because there is no longer any copyright protection. Making it clear that it is a rewrite, as you intend, is a good idea--otherwise you might face some backlash for plagiarism to the extent you were passing off the entire work as your own. From a legal standpoint, however, I think it would be hard for anyone to bring a claim against you (at least in the U.S.) even if you didn't credit the original author. Failure to attribute might fall within some kind of 'moral right,' but moral rights usually run concurrently with the copyright so once the work is in the public domain the legal protections around it vanish.
  4. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

    Oct 20, 2020
    Likes Received:
    You can with no legal repercussions.

    I know this is true in the United States, but I believe Copyright Laws are an agreement between almost all nations and why on most books the disclaimer says "International Copyright Law." The leaders of that time recognized creative protection was needed worldwide and not just within a country's borders, and banded together for the good of all.

    Copyright Protection is automatically eliminated after 70 years of publication though, and the Supreme court has ruled that dead people cannot be offended.

    What does this mean?

    My Great Uncle many times removed wrote a book in 1909 as an example. Therefore his book is out of copyright forever. But the Supreme Court ruling has determined, if you was to take his book, and make it erotica, I could not sue you for deformation of character, because your book is not an affront to me directly. The person you may be ridiculing, is dead.

    How our leaders of that time had so much foresight is beyond me, but copyright laws to me are the most ideal set of rules there is because 70 years from death of an author, or publication date, just seems perfect. It allows the financial privilege's of the book to be granted to the author, and yet given for the good of mankind thereafter!
    Malum likes this.
  5. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    On the Road.
    - Mod hat on -

    We as a forum are not qualified to give legal advise. So I'd advise anyone before they take anything legal they read here as true, to contact a copyright lawyer and get their advise.
    Malum likes this.
  6. More

    More Active Member

    Dec 11, 2019
    Likes Received:
    You don't say what the book is about . I like old books and many are interesting to read and look at . However , the information in a hundred and fifty year old book is probably out of date and freely available.
  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Aug 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    East devon/somerset border
    this a thousand times... especially as copyright is not as simple as some posters make out...

    in general in the US it expires 70 years after the death of the author (not 70 years from the date of publication) for works created after 1978 , except in instances where it doesn't, for works created before 1978 different standards apply, you can find a reasonably comprehensive guide here https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf

    and uk guidance here https://www.gov.uk/topic/intellectual-property/copyright

    Because of all the variations, limitations and loop holes, if you have copyright concerns you should see a legal specialist.... some authorial societies have legal help for this sort of thing as a benefit for their members
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2020
    Lifeline likes this.
  8. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

    Sep 9, 2019
    Likes Received:
    The White Rose county, UK
    Speaking from an (amateur) historian's POV, I think you might struggle to gain traction with a rewrite.

    You mention the books contain historical information, but you don't say if they're history books or not. History books that old often become historical documents in themselves, showing as they do the state and viewpoints of the authors of the time, in both the information they contain and the way they are written. In addition, research moves on and the information in your books could well be out of date.

    If they're not history books but something like an autobiography, then the author's voice becomes even more important. I'm not sure how well a rewrite can preserve that.

    I'm also wondering what you mean by adding spice. If you mean adding original research, then you need to be even more careful about passing it off as a rewrite. Once you start adding in stuff that was not in the original, you're really treading into territory that could get you panned by the readers or worse.

    Personally, I would look at writing a commentary on the books rather than a rewrite.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice