Books written before 1923 are very likely to be in the public domain. This means their copyright has expired and may not be renewed. If you are taking a course and you have to read Hawthorne, Wilde, Austen, Ibsen or Darwin — or other really old, dead writers–you are in luck. I just got a new Kindle and downloaded The Scarlet Letter for free.  I realized I never read it and thought it was high time. Next on my list is The Importance of Being Ernest, again simply because I never read it and it’s free! My friends and I have been searching Project Gutenberg, ManyBooks.net, the Google e-Bookstore and Amazon for free e-books. If you’re not a literature enthusiast, but you like nature instead, you can be the first person to download Butterflies Worth Knowing by Clarence M. Weed. Butterflies haven’t changed much in the past 100 years.

We should appreciate our public domain books because, like some butterflies, they are becoming an endangered species. The 1997 copyright law extended copyright terms on all books covered by copyright at the time, so no new books have entered the public domain since 1997, and none will enter the public domain until 2017. We can spend this 20-year dry period enjoying the knowledge that is ours for the taking, absolutely open and free.

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