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The first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, whose title page reads as follows:

Encylopædia Britannica;

OR, A

DICTIONARY

OF

ARTS and SCIENCES,

COMPILED UPON A NEW PLAN.

IN WHICH

The different Sciences and Arts are digested into distinct Treatises or Systems ;

AND

The various Technical Terms, &c. are explained as they occur in the order of the Alphabet.


ILLUSTRATED WITH ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY COPPERPLATES.


By a Society of GENTLEMEN in Scotland.


IN THREE VOLUMES.



EDINBURGH:

Printed for A. Bell and C. Macfarquhar ;

And sold by Colin Macfarquhar, at his Printing-Office, Nicolson-street.

MDCCLXXI

Well, you get the idea. I spared you the changes in font size.

Volume I covered the letters A-B. Volume II covered C-L (I guess they ran out of steam). Volume III finished with M-Z.

This edition is a delight to read: it has an article on phlogiston but not oxygen. The North American colonies are still that.

Historical sidelight: this edition was subject to censorship. The article on midwifery had very frank illustrations of childbirth. There was a hue and cry and many copies had these pages torn out.

You may see facsimile copies of this edition. They are a masterpiece of modern printing. The faux-leather binding has imitation dings. The pages appear mildly foxed, presumably via a photographic reproduction of the originals. This facsimile edition has no ISBN, copyright notice, or anything else indicating they were not printed in the 18th century. The proprietor of The Cranbury Book Worm, from whom I purchased my copy, told me they were issued to celebrate the bicentennial of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Noders with expertise in copyright law, please give me your opinion on this issue: the facsimile edition is an exact reproduction of the 1771 original, which is clearly in the public domain. So the TEXT of the facsimile is also in the public domain, is it not (since there were no editorial or other textual modifications)? I agree that it would be prohibited for me to publish my own copy of the facsimile via photo-offset, or to scan it in and post the IMAGES of the pages on the web.

bertilak wrote, with respect to a work originally published in 1771 and reprinted in 1971: I agree that it would be prohibited ... to scan it in and post the images of the pages on the web.

No it wouldn't. Of course, nothing you read on Everything is legal advice, but I have read Title 17 of the U.S. Code (which contains the copyright law). Republishing a work unmodified does not create a new "original work of authorship"; the copyright date is still 1771. Even the facsimile is copyright 1771 because it is a verbatim copy of a literary work copyright 1771.

The rule for public domain is: If the work was first published before 1923, it's in the public domain; if the copyright holder has abandoned the copyright on the work (that is, released the work into PD), it's in the public domain; otherwise, it's under perpetual copyright due to a loophole in the U.S. Constitution.

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