Is Napoleon Hill’s Self-Help Classic “Think And Grow Rich” In The Public Domain?

The great “New Thought” pioneer, Napoleon Hill quietly comtemplating the fact that you’ll never know for sure if he’s wearing pants in this picture…

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).

It’s interesting to me that Mr. Hill did not renew the original edition, even though he was still actively involved with the book when renewal time came around (or at least his family was) as evidenced by the release of a new version in 1960. There was a HUGE oversight involved, I’m sure ~ I doubt Mr. Hill and his publishers would have knowingly allowed the copyright protection to lapse on this valuable work.

But thankfully, oversights such as this happened all the time. That’s why the fourty year span between 1923 and 1963 is such a goldmine of copyright-free Public Domain content.

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.

Mr. Hill circa 1937 reading “Think & Grow Rich”. Although our sources can neither confirm nor deny, we believe Mr. Hill is almost certainly wearing pants in this picture.

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)

Links To Online Scans of Napoleon Hill’s Verified Public Domain Books…

The Law of Success (In Sixteen Lessons)  (1928)

Think and Grow Rich (1937)


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Comments

  1. Hayley says

    Hi,
    First of all thankyou for putting together such a well documented site. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. I have been reading the material and it’s very helpful, however I am still a little puzzled at how to do what I want. Which is find the science of getting
    rich book and use it as a free gift (ebook)on my website. Can you give me a little step by step on the most time effective way to do this. Your help is much appreciated. I am waiting to do this in order to have my site fully functioning.
    Kind Regards
    Hayley

  2. Henny says

    In a severe recession,no one is buying anything except food and immediate needs items.Public domain goods,no matter how well packaged, are the last on anyone’s list.If there was a plate of gold bars that cost $1 and no one had that dollar to buy the gold,it simply doesn’t get bought.

  3. says

    Hi Henny,

    Thanks for this comment.

    I’m truly sorry that you feel this way.

    I can tell you that this has not been my experience at all.

    Even in a severe recession there are still boundless opportunities and plenty of money to be made for those that are willing to be creative and determined.

    Thanks Henny!

    Logan

  4. Wanjala says

    Hi. Wanted to know whether the following is trully on Public Domain. Law of Success in 16 Lessons and 2. Master Key to Success Series.. Audio. both by Napoleon Hill. Thank you.

  5. says

    If you are asking if an “audio” version of Napoleon Hills work is in the Public Domain??? – Nope. That would be someone who
    has taken the initiative to create their own product out of public domain material.

    debra

  6. says

    Hi Wanjala,

    Thanks for the excellent question.

    There is a couple of things that concerned me a little bit here…

    “The Law of Success In 16 Lessons” (1928 edition) by Napoleon Hill is in the public domain.

    Mr. Hill never wrote a book called “Master Key To Success”.

    He did write a book published in 1945 called “Master Key To Riches” which is now in the public domain.

    In the description below, the word “audio” is present leading me to believe that these are audio books you are looking at?

    If so, some information would need to be gathered and some research would need to be conducted in order to determine the copyright status of the audio recordings themselves before attempting use.

    While the two books above are in the public domain, these audio versions would maintain there own seperate copyright protection and are most likely not in the public domain especially if they were produced any time after 1963.

    Hope that helps…

    Thanks Wanjala!
    Logan Andrew

  7. says

    Hi Hari, thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you have any Public Domain related questions and I’ll do my best to get you answers. Thanks!

  8. Adam says

    Hello,

    I read your article on Napolean Hill Thhink & Grow Rich & Found it very interesting,do you happen to know if this 1937 version is public domain in the UK? If not is there a way i could get around this and publish it in the U.S and still sell to the UK market?

    Thanks,

    Adam

  9. says

    Hi Adam,

    Unfortunately, this edition of “Think & Grow Rich” won’t be in the Public Domain in the U.K. until 2021. It is in the Public Domain in most other EU countries following the “rule of the shorter term” but the U.K. (and Germany) are exceptions to the rule because the U.K. was not following the rule of the shorter term during the year that this book would have come up for renewal in the U.S. – therefore when trying to determine the copyright status of this book in the U.K. (as with all U.S. Public Domain books published between 1928-1963) you must apply the durations provided by the copyright law that the U.K. was following at that time ~ in this case, in 1965, the U.K. was applying life of author plus 50 years. Mr.Hill died in 1970 which keeps this book under copyright protection in the U.K. until the end of calendar year 2020.

    We discuss this extensively in our book, “The Global Copyright Dilemma” which is given as a free bonus with our “Public Domain Treasure Hunter’s Survival Kit”.

    You asked if there is a way around this, whether or not you could publish the book in the U.S. with the intentions of selling it in the U.K. ~ I wouldn’t do this with a physical book – you could actually get sued by Mr. Hill’s heirs for violating their copyrights in the U.K.

    If the product is electronic rather than physical (an ebook), then you could offer it for sale as long as you host your site on U.S. servers and use U.S. based payment processors but again I want to repeat ~ do not try and publish this as a physical book in the U.K. or you are begging for trouble. You could republish it as a physical book in the U.S. but shipping it into the U.K. (or Germany since we’re on the subject) would be a big no-no.

    Hope that helps!

    Logan

  10. Karina says

    Hi Logan!

    What about the Napoleon Hill’s video series, on Youtube? Some people say it was recorded in the 1960’s.

    Thanks!
    Karina

  11. says

    Hi Karina,

    I love these vids. I still remember the very first segment that Primeau Productions uploaded to YouTube. I was like, “Is this for real? Where the heck did these come from?”. Video footage of Mr. Hill is indeed extremely rare.

    Ed from Primeau Productions says the segments came from a film library he discovered somewhere and claims that they were produced in the 60’s. I would venture to say that these films were actually made mid to late 50’s during the years that Mr. Hill and W. Clement Stone were publishing their “Success Unlimited” Magazine (launched May 1954).

    I don’t have any publication data for these films which would we would need to determine the copyright status however, I very seriously doubt these films are in the Public Domain. They were produced under the banner of “Napoleon Hill Associates” which was basically an enterprise of W. Clement Stone in partnership with Mr. Hill. They produced a ton of material during the fifties, much of which was faithfully renewed.

    I’ve tried to locate the publication data for these films in the past but it doesn’t seem to exist. My gut hunch tells me that these films (or rather the one film that these segments came from) were never officially “published” meaning they were never made available to the public. From a U.S. copyright law perspective, this unpublished film would not be in the Public Domain in the U.S. today.

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