No Rights Attached



No Rights Attached



A work becomes available in the public domain once the copyright of a work expires,  when the work is not eligible for copyright when the author dedicates their work to the public domain, or when the author never obtained a copyright, (Laube,2017), hence the title No Rights Attached. As soon as a book goes into the public domain, there are publishers who take this book, scan it, change the cover, and sell it as a new book. So how ethical does it sound? Have you ever wondered if we are being respectful to the authors and their fans by doing that? In this essay, you will be exploring and learning the answers to the above questions.


Ethical or Not?


It is hard to give a definite answer about how ethical it is to publish from the public domain. After reading and researching about this, I figured out that there are unwritten rules one should follow to for the work of others. These are also the main factors that generate money. Publishing from the public domain is an exciting and challenging opportunity that allows people to revisit old works and makes them enjoyable for contemporary readers. ( Seiders 2013)

I will take the Anne of Green Gables, the famous book by Lucy Maud Montgomery, as an example to revisit the ethics in publishing from the public domain. It is a set of Canadian stories published in 1908 about a charming, intelligent, freckled, red-headed orphan child; the story and its characters are loved and respected by a lot of fans. It is a book that people remember reading from their childhood and has been in the public domain for over 25 years now, so publishers have created many versions of it. Some versions are inspired by their own children’s love for this book and others simply want to keep it alive. Some went all in and published a limited edition of the 8 set books. When I was searching for this book on google, I found more than 100 editions of the book. Some are illustrated versions, others have a weird stand out cover, but there is one version that caught my attention and created a lot of controversy with the fans and the internet.  It made me wonder whether how far we should go when we publish a book from the public domain; is it “morally” okay to add our own twist to it?


The controversial publisher mentioned above depicted Anne in a very modern and contemporary way by putting a photo of a young blond girl with a “sexy” pose as the main book cover. On Amazon, outraged readers complained (Vancouver Sun,2013). “Really, who is that girl? Definitely not Anne!”  Another reviewer said, “The books are wonderful and do not deserve this disgrace of a cover.” (National Post, 2013)

An article from the publishing-vanity department mentioned that the act of upgrading the cover was done “in a way that is quite faithful to modern audience expectations, but not so faithful to the text.” (Beadon, 2013)

This controversial cover appeared on a cover of a three-in-one book edition produced by an anonymous publisher through CreateSpace by Amazon, where allows people can publish their own material from the public domain. (create space)


This is one of many examples of what can happen when the copyrights fail us. It is a great idea to revive old books and keep them circulating, in my opinion. I would love to have my favorite childhood book available to read it for my grandchildren with new illustrations or an updated cover design.


Rules to make a public domain books people would appreciate and pay for

 Believing in the industry


Publishing from the public domain can be argued to be ethical because the work is available to the public. In other words, according to copyright law, it is everyone’s right to change and edit such works. Working on publishing books from the public domain might prove very successful if one followed and truly believed in this work. Some publishing houses do make most of their living from publishing from the public domain. In a recent class discussion with Alexis Roumanis, the owner of Engage Books, he showed us how he managed to publish 1000 copies of limited-edition classical books from the public domain successfully. In Alexis’ project report about “Building Engage Books as a Publisher in the 21st Century” he mentioned that even though the classical stories that he chose to publish have been around for decades, he tends to find a desire that makes the readers still ask for the books. This desire can also increase within the popular culture when the classical book takes the form of a movie on the television (Roumanis,2013).  We can say that if a publisher tends to give all their effort in something, they believe it, the effort and the passion can be transferred most of the time to income. It is widely spread among us, the publishing industry, that everyone works in it because of the passion for the books, titles, and authors. I can definitely see that passion from my interest in Engage Books. Alexis, through his dedication to Engage Books and his passion for the work he does, he was able to create a successful run of 1000 copies of limited-edition books. His main focus was not the income itself, but the project as a whole; he mentioned in his report “ I understood that the classic titles tend to provide publishers with a steady flow of income, rather than fast earners and that the classic I published would have to reflect this”.


Adding Value;

Other than truly believing in what you are doing, when publishing from the public domain, one should add a value to the book itself. Alexis has mentioned that publishers tend to underestimate the need to add a value. Value can be added, by changing the cover or the illustrations in the book o reflect and attract the current popular culture(Fombelle,2016). Here, if the publisher already has established a connection with their publishing company and believes in what they are doing, we should not be afraid that a controversial case like the one of Anne of Green Gables will occur again.


In summary, it is very hard to say how ethical a project or an idea is. There is a lot of unfairness in this world. In my opinion, we should treat works from the public domain with respect and integrity, always keeping in mind that the work belongs to other people. A case like Engage Books is a good example of how to do this right. They do not change books completely for the sake of making money. They respect and honor the original works so that contemporary readers will like it.



Work cited:

Beadon, Leigh. “Controversy Over Anne Of Green Gables Cover Is Way Overblown, And That’s A Great Sign For Indie Publishing.” Techdirt. February 07, 2013. Accessed December 06, 2018.


Fombelle, AC De. “Publishing Public Domain Books: Yes You Can!” StreetLib. August 11, 2016. Accessed December 06, 2018.


Laube, Steve. “When Does a Book Become Public Domain? -.” The Steve Laube Agency. October 02, 2017. Accessed December 06, 2018.


“New Anne of Green Gables Cover Featuring Attractive Blonde Sparks Online Outrage.” June 02, 2013. Accessed December 06, 2018. green gables cover featuring attractive blonde sparks online outrage/7927689/story.html.


Press, The Canadian. “Anne of Green Gables Gets a Sexy Makeover, Blond Dye-job for New Edition – and Canadian Fans Are Not Amused.” National Post. February 07, 2013. Accessed December 06, 2018.

Romano, Alexis. A LEAN START-UP: Building Engage Books as a Publisher in the 21st Century. 2009. Accessed December 1, 2018. PDF.


Seiders, Barbara. “Respect the Work: Republishing Public Domain Works.” One Hundred Year Horizons. February 08, 2015. Accessed December 06, 2018.


“Submission Guidelines.” CreateSpace – An Amazon Company. Accessed December 06, 2018.



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