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 —

H.G. Wells

illustration ©1983 Vincent Di Fate

Herbert George Wells was born to English working-class parents in 1866. At age eighteen he earned a scholarship to Imperial College, where he came under the tutelage of Darwinian scholar T.H. Huxley. Evolutionary theory strongly influenced Wells’ early “scientific romances.” The first of these, The Chronic Argonauts, was serialized in his college newspaper in 1888. Seven years later he rewrote it as The Time Machine: An Invention, which became the first to be published in a series of popular novels including The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. These “romances” became the foundation of modern science fiction. Their seminal influence in the field is challenged only by that of the French fantasist Jules Verne, who Wells once claimed “can’t write himself out of a paper sack.” Wells briefly joined England’s socialist movement and in later novels promoted socialism, feminism, and free love, which he put into personal practice. He was a leading proponent of the League of Nations and chaired the original proposal. Wells wrote numerous short stories and essays and more than one hundred fifty books, including the nonfiction Outline of History, which sold over two million copies. But it is his early science fiction that remains his most enduring legacy. Before his death in 1946 Wells provided his own epitaph to an interviewer: “God damn you all, I told you so.” Adaptations of Wells stories appear in Graphic Classics: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 17.

The Inexperienced Ghost

The Invisible Man

Le Mari Terrible

The Man Who Could Work Miracles

The Man with a Nose

The Star

The Temptation of Harringay

The Time Machine

The War of the Worlds