About Graphic Classics’
E-texts and the Public Domain

Public domain is the legal name given to a work that is not protected by copyright. Anyone may copy, distribute, modify or adapt the work freely. Copyright law was created to protect the rights of the original creator(s) of a piece of literature, art, or music. After the death of the creator, the founders of our country intended that the works would then pass into the public domain. Popular and important works could then be widely distributed at low cost, and could be incorporated into other creations and sequels, or adapted to other forms such as stage plays and operas (or later, films and comics.)

The first United States Copyright Act (1790) provided for a term of 14 years, renewable for a second 14-year period.  Later the initial term was extended to 28 years, renewable for a possible total of 56 years.  The 1976 Copyright Act eliminated the renewal requirement, and gave works a life, plus 50 year term for individual authors and a flat 75-year term for “corporate authors” (works made for hire). This was a reasonable extension which allowed an author’s immediate family to benefit financially from the creator's works.

In 1998, Congress passed S.505, now generally known as the “Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” (after the entertainer/legislator who sponsored the bill in the House), extending the term of copyright protection by another 20 years. The legislation covered new works, as well as those already in existence. The bill was lobbied and promoted by ASCAP (the music-licensing agency) and the film industry, particularly the Disney Corporation, which feared its Mickey Mouse character and early cartoons falling into the public domain. The bill was passed despite the objections, in a detailed statement to Congress, by sixty copyright and intellectual property law professors, who asserted that it was a bad deal for the public. They countered the arguments offered by the proponents of term extension and demonstrated the drastic and permanent harm to the public domain that extension would bring about. 

Unfortunately, the corporate interests prevailed. The result of the bill is that what was once a simple author’s life, plus 50 years copyright term is now an extremely complicated variety of copyright terms, registrations and extensions which is difficult to understand without specialized legal consultation. The only clear and uncontestable condition is that works published prior to 1923 are now in the public domain. US copyright law is also now at variance with that of other countries, most of which allow works into the public domain after author's life plus 70 years.

Most of the works adapted in the Graphic Classics series are from the pre-1923 period. Others are unrenewed works, or are licensed from the authors’ estates.

On this page we will link to PDF files of the original text stories on which Graphic Classics’ adaptations are based. We are beginning with the originals of Poe’s works, and will gradually expand to include all authors whose public domain poems and stories are adapted in the series. These files are free for downloading or online viewing. You can click to read online, or control-click to download a PDF to your computer.

Note that, unlike our adaptations, these original texts have not been edited or censored, and may contain language inappropriate for young readers.

You can find more information about copyright and the public domain at these sites:

Cornell University Copyright Information Center

Arizona State University Opposing Copyright Extension Forum

University of Pennsylvania Online Books Page

Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain

The Duke University site offers a free, 74-page, downloadable explanation of copyright law, particularly as it applies to fair use, in comics form: Bound by Law?


Free E-texts from Graphic Classics —

Arthur Conan Doyle

illustration ©2002 Richard Sala

Arthur Conan Doyle, born in 1859, studied in England and Germany and became a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He built a successful medical practice, but also wrote, and created his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes, in 1887. Following a less-successful practice as an oculist, Doyle concentrated on his writing career. He was proudest of his historical novels, such as The White Company, and in 1894 introduced his second popular character, Brigadier Gerard. In 1912 he created Professor Challenger, who appeared in a series of science fiction-themed stories. But Holmes continued to be his most famous creation. Doyle felt that Holmes was a distraction and kept him from writing the “better things” that would make him a “lasting name in English literature.” He killed his detective in 1893 in The Final Problem, only to resurrect him in 1903 due to public demand. Doyle wrote an astonishing range of fiction including medical stories, sports stories, historical fiction, science fiction, contemporary drama and verse. He also wrote nonfiction, including the six-volume The British Campaign in France and Flanders. His defense of British colonialism in South Africa led to his being knighted in 1902. By 1916 Doyle’s investigations into Spiritualism had convinced him that he should devote the rest of his life to the advancement of the belief. He wrote and lectured on the Spiritualist cause until his death in 1930. Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle are adapted in:
Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle
Adventure Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 12
Science Fiction Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 17
Christmas Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 19
Halloween Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 23
Graphic Classics: Special Edition

A Parable (poem)

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb

Captain Sharkey

The Crime of the Brigadier

The Disintegration Machine*

The Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange

The Great Brown-Pericord Motor

How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom

John Barrington Cowles

The Los Amigos Fiasco

Lot No. 249

Master (poem)

*(note: This story is under copyright in the U.S., and thus an e-text is not included on this site. “The Disintegration Machine” appears in Science Fiction Classics by permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Copyright Holders.)