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What else can you do with Public Domain Works?

I am frequently asked to write a book on the multiple ways public domain works can be used to make money. Let’s face it, in this day and age everyone needs a bit extra to make ends meet, or, some residual income to cover car repairs, mortgage balloon payment, or medical expenses. I’m already working on two new books at the moment so can’t fit anything else in just yet. What I can do is give you some ideas.

There are milions of public domain images available online – my own collection tops 10,000. I used some of these images to make my own book covers. You can find public domain images on every subject you can think about: anatomy, botany, children’s story illustrations, horses, sports, nautical, Black music record covers, crate labels, cigar labels, art nouveau, circus posters, french posters, transportation, Hogarth, images from space, and on and on and on.

You can use these images for profit as long as you follow all the copyright guidelines, as explained in my book. (See the side bar to get your copy) You can use them to illustrate children’s story books; reproduce them on professional quality printers and sell prints on eBay or Etsy; put the images on t-shirts, tea towels, children’s clothing; create arts and crafts; make posters for sale.

Make sure you fully research the copyright on every image otherwise you could land yourself in trouble.  A common mistake that people make is believing that every public domain work is out of copyright, and that’s not the case. As you know, many old images are not in the best condition. Color may have faded, there may be creases in the original that show up in reprints, there may be spots and blemishes, etc, etc. If you restore one a copy of an image that is in the public domain, there are some circumstances that allow you to then copyright it as your own based on the amount of restoration that has taken place.  The ORIGINAL image can never be copyrighted, but a greatly restored image can.

Let me give you another example. The works of Charles Dickens are in the public domain. They are free from copyright. However, if I take Oliver Twist and reformat it by changing the style and size of the font, reorder the text by changing where paragraphs occur, and change the start ad end of chapters…all of this without changing one word of the original text….I will have made substantial changes and can copyright it under my own name.  The changes I have made can not be used by anyone else without first getting permission form me because I own the copyright for that version, even though I didn’t write one single word. The one thing to take away form this is to ALWAYS go to the source and use the original. If you see a cleaner copy, ignore it. It may be copyrighted by the person or company who did the restoration.

If you do want to make reproduction prints, get yourself a professional quality photo printer, such as the Canon Pro 100, and always use original manufacture printer ink. You can buy ink refills but from the research I have undertaken the refills are lesser quality and will not produce the best print.

Use high quality photo paper. I recommend a minimum of 250 gsm though to 300 gsm, both of which are significantly heavier than regular photo paper. The heavier the paper, the more expensive it is. Also have a look at the specialty Fine Art paper and canvas. These make stunning prints.

If you use a professional quality printer and inks you are working with museum quality products. Place your prints in a frame protected from direct sunlight and they will last for decades and could become a family heirloom in its own right.

And there you have it. There is so much you can do with public domain works that goes beyond using them as plotting material for writing children’s books.

Let me know if you have any questions and I will answer them as soon as I can.


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