Answered By: Alyssa Mitchell
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2020     Views: 20945

According to current U.S. copyright law, items published before 1923 are in the public domain. Specifically for Agatha Christie's works, this means that only 2 of her novels are in the public domain. They are The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and The Secret Adversary (1922). The rest of her novels will enter the public domain between the years 2019 and 2073. This is based on current copyright law that states that the copyright term on a work will expire 95 years after publication date.

Comments (5)

  1. But Christie was not American, she was British. As the United States recognizes copyright of works by foreign authors (see ), British copyright law would apply, both in Britain and the US, doesn't it? But in Christie's case, perhaps the following note (9) on the Cornell website would put that argument away: "Works that were simultaneously published abroad and in the US are treated as if they are American publications." It seems (according to the British Library Catalogue) that the mentioned books were published by a publisher, John Lane, who was based both in London and New York, although that does not necessarily mean that the books were actually published in both countries simultaneously. For example, is a separate edition with American spelling needed for this?
    by Bram van Reemst on Aug 16, 2020
  2. @Bram van Reemst - The information you have from Cornell is correct. As long as the book was registered or published in the United States, the author's country of origin does not play a part in determining the copyright length. Once it has been registered in the U.S. or published by an American branch of an international publisher, the U.S. copyright law is applied to the title as it is essentially viewed as an American publication at that point. So for Agatha Christie, even though she is a British author, since her books were published both in the U.K. and the U.S., a few of her books are in the U.S. public domain already since the copyright term has expired in the U.S. while in the U.K. the copyright term will not expire until 2047. I hope that helps!
    by Walsh University Library on Aug 18, 2020
  3. There is no such thing as international copyright law. All countries that are signatories to international copyright *agreements* apply their own law to the work in question. So, the fact Christie was British is irrelevant - only U.S. copyright law applies in the USA. Most of her work was published before the 1976 copyright law took effect on 1 January 1978, and extended the renewal terms of pre-1978 works from 28 + 28 years to 28 + 47 years, or 75 years in all; which was extended by another 20 years under the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. So, all pre-1978 Christie works enter the public domain 95 years after publication. *Hercule Poirot and the Greenshaw Folly*, however, was not published until 2013, so the 1978 rules apply and it will remain under copyright projection until 70 years after Christie died in 1976 or the year 2046.
    by Micheal T McLoughlin, Esq. on Feb 12, 2023
  4. I'm puzzled, though. Christie's play "The Unexpected Guest," which played in Britain in 1958, is often listed as being in the public domain. Is this false?
    by Slade Barker on Nov 08, 2023
  5. This answer was originally created in 2021. Since then I've seen that The Unexpected Guest is available on the Gutenberg and The Internet Archive in full text, free. I trust both organizations to make something available only if it is in the public domain. Just my perspective.
    by Kathy Adams, Walsh University Librarian on Nov 30, 2023

Contact Us!

Main Library: (330) 490-7185
Main Library: (330) 490-7185

Questions? Ask Us!

Related Topics