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Both my husband's great grandfather and, on my side, my own great-great grandfather were published authors. Their books appear on the Bibliobazaar/Open Source sites. Although we are direct descendants, we are not heirs or executors of an estate (as far as we know) in either case.

If we republish our ancestors' work with annotations and/or different illustrations (probably copyright-free images, if we can find any suitable ones) and physically retype the manuscripts, is that legal and then would the copyright for this edition be ours? Could we then set up an estate of this collection of family work for our own children? Would it be best to set up a small publishing company (ie through Lightning Source) to do this? Or would it be better to self publish via something like Create Space? Do we need to get permission from either Bibliobazaar or Open Source.

  • Just to be clear, are you saying that the original works by your great-great-grandfather and your husband's great-grandfather are in the public domain? If you're certain of that, it simplifies the question somewhat. – David Z Jun 12 '17 at 4:34
  • Questions about copyright law are usually better asked on law.stackexchange.com – Philipp Jun 12 '17 at 14:03
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I'm not a legal expert, but my belief is that you can reprint anything in the public domain, but you cannot newly copyright it. Typically, when older works are reprinted, the publisher adds scholarly notes, a new introduction, new illustrations, or other material that can be copyrighted (for example, The Annotated Alice). If it is really in the public domain, you will not need permission from the repositories, nor should you need to retype (unless they added their own copyrighted material to the original).

As far as best method of republishing, that really is a separate question, that has been addressed elsewhere here. It really depends on what your aims are. If the work is of general interest, and you have added solid supplemental materials, you might consider a traditional publisher, perhaps one that specializes in older work. If you are expecting it to be only of interest to your immediate family, Print-On-Demand is probably your best bet.

A note of caution: if you are expecting this to be an income source for your family, that is highly unlikely, unless your ancestors were famous (in which case someone would probably have already re-released their work). You're probably going to be most happy with this process if you view it as doing a service to your ancestors, by keep their work alive, rather than as a way to build up a nest egg for your kids.

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