Recently, my friend Tim and I were having a conversation about Napoleon Hill's self-help classic "Think & Grow Rich". Tim graciously agreed to let me share some of our conversation here as it may prove beneficial to you as well especially if you are doing anything in the Self-Improvement / Self-Help / Success Mindset niche. Thanks Tim!
A few days ago, Tim asked me this question:
"I am trying to find an online proof that Napoleoon Hills Think & Grow rich is actually in public domain. Everyone says it is, but I cant actually find a public domain location (such as Gutenberg) that stores it. Do you have any ideas?"
Here's my response:
Yeah, that can be a tricky one because there have been several versions of "Think and Grow Rich" published over the last 70+ years but only one version is in the Public Domain in the United States.
The version you are looking for is the original 1937 edition.
Bibliographic information as follows:
Hill, N., Think and Grow Rich; Teaching, for the First Time, the famous Andrew Carnegie Formula for Money-Making, Based upon the Thirteen Proven Steps to Riches, The Ralston Society, (Meriden), 1937.
Published in 1937 in the U.S., this book needed to be renewed for copyright protection 28 years later in 1965 to retain that protection. For whatever reason, the copyright protection for this book was not renewed as evidenced by the total lack of any renewal record in the U.S. Copyright Office's "Catalog of Copyight Entries"
Naturally, because this book is so famous (and because of it's Public Domain status), it's been republished a million times in various formats. Even Mr. Hill himself published a new abridged version of the book in 1960 -you'll find a renewal record for this at copyright.gov in 1988 (28 years after publication) held by Mr. David H. Hill.
If you check copyright.gov, and search for "Think and Grow Rich", you'll find records for roughly 23 entries of books by that title. As you sort through them, you'll notice that all of these records are records of registration or renewal for different new versions (usually with either new material added or released in a different format like audio).
As far as the book not being on Gutenberg or any of the other big repositories of Public Domain books, that's not surprising due to the fact that the big guys usually like to play it safe and only upload stuff that was published prior to 1923.
If you plan on republishing this book, you are well within your legal right to do so provided that you only use material from the 1937 Public Domain version.
Because so many other people have also republished this book, I would probably place a note somewhere (on your webpage or on the title page of your book depending on what you are doing) that states something to the effect that your product was created using extracted material from the 1937 edition of Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich".
You don't have to do this, but if you are concerned about it, it may help ease your mind.
As far as obtaining "proof" that "Think and Grow Rich" is in the Public Domain...
Tim, that's the funny thing about the Public Domain - there is never any hard "proof" that a work is in the Public Domain, only the results of research obtained through paying due diligence. Following the rules established by U.S. & International Copyright laws, plus the absolute and total non-existence of a renewal record in any database is all the "proof" you need.
That's the goofy part - it's easy to find concrete proof that a work has been renewed and is thus still protected by copyright. It's another thing altogether to obtain concrete proof that a work is in the Public Domain. In other words, you're very unlikely to ever obtain an actual document that verifies Public Domain status.
Even in the event that you hire a copyright research firm or even the U.S. Copyright Office to conduct a copyright status check for you, the most you can expect is a document that states "no renewal found".
However, there's power in those three words. If anyone challenges your claim that a work you've used is in the Public Domain by claiming that they are the legal copyright holder the burden of proof in my opinion, lies on them. Produce evidence of a copyright renewal I say. It's easy enough.
It may also be helpful to note that technically, this 1937 edition would not be considered Public Domain in any other country that does not follow the rule of the shorter term. Following the life of author plus 70 years convention adopted by most other countries, and factoring in the fact that Mr. Hill died in 1970 puts this book in the Public Domain in many other countries of the world on January 1st, 2041.
Technically, it is currently Public Domain in the U.S. and any country following the rule of the shorter term (including Australia, France, Spain, Italy, etc).
Another little tip: Don't just republish "Think and Grow Rich" - actually read it! It's a fantastic book.
Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) Unofficial Bibliography:
NOTE: This bibliography is for research purposes only. A title's inclusion here does NOT necessarily mean that the title is in the Public Domain...
- Hill's Golden Rule magazine, publisher and editor (1919-1920)
- The Law of Success (1928)
- The Magic Ladder to Success (1930)
- Think and Grow Rich (1937)
- How to Sell Your Way through Life (1939)
- Mental Dynamite (1941)
- The Master Key to Riches (1945)
- How to Raise Your Own Salary (1953)
- Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (1959)
- PMA Science of Success Course (1961)
- Grow Rich With Peace of Mind (1967)
- Succeed and Grow Rich Through Persuasion (1970)
- You Can Work Your Own Miracles (1971)