I have a question on a book which its last edition was published about 50 years ago and its author died about 47 years ago. Now it is out of print. The last edition of the book I am interested was translated to English (in 1965). I have sent email to its publisher about this book, but I didnt receive any answer. I also searched this book in the publisher's website, but I didnt find it. I also mention that I cant find its translator.

I have found the electronif file of the book in a website which allows users to download many books from it illegally (that is without any permission from the actual publishers).

My question is: Can I use that illegal electronic file of the book for self study ?

I put the information of the book below:

Title: Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers

Second Edition Revised 1965

Author: Wacław Sierpiński

Translated from Polish by: Janina Smólska

Publisher: PWN-Polish Scientific Publishers

4 Answers 4


The copyright on the book (original) expires 70 years from death of the author (per Polish law) - so you're still 22 years short on that.

The copyright on the translated version will be a joint copyright of the author and the translator, so the longer of the two period applies; Janina Smólska is polish too, and it seems she died in 2002 so the translation will enter public domain no earlier than in 2072.

Until then, you can use excerpts from the book under fair use clauses - e.g. for educational use, in white papers. You certainly can't distribute the book, and the site you got it from does so illegally. Using it "from illegal source" is a grey area. More specifically, per US law (DMCA) it seems like the act of downloading the book (which you did already) is illegal, while using it afterwards is okay.

To be on the "clean" side, borrow a copy from a library, to have it on record, and then nobody can complain you copy&paste excerpts from the electronic version as long as you don't brag about it.

  • Cautious, "fair use" is a concept of US copyright law (and other English speaking countries). It may not apply to Poland. Mar 4, 2017 at 22:12
  • @JohnSmithers: True. Though it contains the educational clause, allowing for use of excerpts.
    – SF.
    Mar 4, 2017 at 22:45
  • @Sf, Regarding your last para, can't they indict you for lying that you didn't use the electronic version?
    – Pacerier
    Jan 20, 2018 at 8:06
  • @Pacerier: if they can prove it (how?) they'd be due for statutory damages (no monetary loss since you could have used the library copy instead) which is more headaches and costs than what's to be gained. So unless they are after making your life more ifficult on some personal vengeance quest, as opposed to making profit, they won't.
    – SF.
    Jan 20, 2018 at 8:16
  • Since the work is now in its last 20 years of copyright protection (although it was not when the question was asked) and out of print, libraries, archives, etc. may be able to take advantage of 17 USC 108(h). Since OP is a private individual, they probably can't do that themselves, but it couldn't hurt to ask a librarian.
    – Kevin
    Jun 2, 2021 at 21:35

Whether or not a book is in print has nothing to do with copyright. For example, it's illegal to copy someone else's book, put your name on it as the author, and sell it. Whether the book is in print or not does not change this. So if this website is selling (or giving away) unauthorized copies of books, the fact that this book is out of print doesn't make it any less illegal.

As to you using the illegal copy ... I am not a lawyer, I doubt anyone would prosecute you for reading an illegal copy even if that's a technical violation. But then, the music industry in the US has been going after people who illegally download music with a vengeance. I've seen news reports of a grandmother sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars because her 10 year old grandchild downloaded a song on her computer, etc.

Anybody on here know the legalities on that?


I can speak only of US copyright law, but the big risk is if you share the file with others. It subjects you to potential statutory fines up to $150,000.

You are not sharing the file -- just using it for your own purposes. So I don't believe you are subject to charges of copyright infringement.

By the way, the worldcat library catalog shows over 500 copies in libraries worldwide (including several in Houston -- where I live!). That makes it fairly easy to request as interlibrary loan through your library http://www.worldcat.org/title/cardinal-and-ordinal-numbers/oclc/796464

With some out-of-print books, it is not unusual for people to reproduce chapters (or entire contents) on the web. It's not an ideal situation obviously.

If you are teacher and xeroxing portions for a class, that might raise additional issues.


Self study yes. But do not share that file or your copy with anyone.

I note that while it is technically legal enough that you should not be prosecuted although that web site might be, doing so would be unethical and possibly immoral depending on your religious beliefs.

That said the government has on occasion, sued those who did use such sites but normally that is only for bulk users. Normally they target only the site for prosecution.

And in the USA anybody can sue anyone else for anything so you theoretically could have to pay to defend yourself even if you win.

That said, there are better books on number theory you could obtain legally. If it is not required for a class why choose Sierpinsky? Are you a math prof or PhD student? Still there are better books that are legal to choose from.

  • We don't know whether OP lives in the US, so your advice that "anybody can sue anyone for anything" may not apply to them. As for this being "unethical", I respectfully disagree. if a book, or abandonware program, is no longer being produced and can no longer be legally obtained, I see nothing unethical about obtaining it by other means. The copyright holders aren't losing any money from it because they're not selling it.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 22, 2021 at 17:23

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