I want to use large excerpts from an old book in the textbook I am writing (e.g. 500-1000 word chunks at a time taken). These will serve as primary sources for the students to analyze.

The first version was originally written in Spanish in the 1500s.

It was subsequently translated into English and I can find various old scans from the 1800s in Archive.org.

If one searches the book on Amazon.com, there are many people still publishing various translated versions of this really old book.

Can I safely copy and paste the passages from the 1800s as they should be under public domain?

Or does the fact that publishers are still publishing this book mean it still is protected?

  • I agree that this should have been asked on law.se, but my answer is the same one that I would have given there. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 7:03

2 Answers 2


If this is a theoretical legal question it should be asked in the law forum of SE.

But if this is real then you need to consult a real IP lawyer.

That said it could depend on what country it was published in, as well as republished. Translation rights might also be a factor.

But since it was back the 1800s you should be safe. That said, anybody can sue anyone for anything in the USA. You should consult a real IP lawyer to make sure it is safe. And then you should be prepared to be sued and have to defend yourself even if you eventually win.

Current publications are protected but only for what is new/changed from the original that you intend to copy from.

Be very careful that you actually use a printing from the 1800s and not a reprint that might have a subtle change that would make you guilty of copyright violation.

Better might be if you could find it on a site that specializes in posting very old out of copyright works so you could be sure about the edition you use.


A work published before 1900 is in the public domain in the US, and is likely to be in most other countries. One from the 1500s is sure to be. A new publication of an old work does not extend the copyright or get a new copyright. A new edition, that has significant changes, will get a new copyright, but only for the new content. And if those changes are trivial, the new edition will not have enough original content, and will not get any copyright at all, at least not under US law.

A translation gets its own copyright by the way, separate from the original and separate from other translations.

That said, a publisher could choose to sue, and some will, hoping for a settlement, even if there is no valid legal basis. The publisher would need to prove that you copied from its version, and would need to establish the validity of its copyright. In the US, the plaintiff must register the copyright before filing suit.

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