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(This document is copied from a page by William Johns on, now gone)

Regarding Copyrights...

Copyright law is actually rather convoluted. The following is taken from the U.S. Copyright Office website regarding How Long Copyright Protection Endures.

Works Originally Created and Published or Registered Before January 1, 1978

Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a work was published with a copyright notice or on the date of registration if the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1, 1978, or for pre-1978 copyrights restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75 years. Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total term of protection of 95 years. (Italics added.)

Since those stories published in 1922 and earlier were no longer under copyright when Public Law 105-298 was passed in 1998, they remain public domain. Regarding his stories published after 1922, S. T. Joshi's biography of Lovecraft contains several very interesting comments (pages 640-641).

Joshi concludes that most, if not all, of his works are in the public domain. After Lovecraft's death, his copyrights would have belonged to the only surviving heir appointed in his will of 1912, his Aunt Annie Gamwell. She died four years later, and the copyrights then devolved to two of her descendants, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis. They in turn signed a document (the "Morrish-Lewis gift") allowing Arkham House to publish all his works, but apparently not granting them the copyrights. For a time, Derleth claimed that the copyrights on the anthologies Arkham House published applied to the stories themselves, which is manifestly not the case.

The other route by which the copyrights could have been acquired by Arkham House is from Weird Tales. On October 9, 1947, Derleth purchased "all rights" from Weird Tales, but even this is problematic - by April 1926 (and possibly sooner) Lovecraft had been reserving all second printing rights for himself1, so on those stories, Weird Tales didn't own any rights to sell. Of the thirteen stories published in Weird Tales before 1926, seven had already been published in amateur journals, and were thereby in the public domain before Weird Tales printed them; that leaves only six2 that Weird Tales actually owned rights to. However, repeated searches of the Library of Congress have failed to yield any evidence that the copyrights were renewed after 28 years - thereby allowing the stories to fall into the public domain by operation of law.


  1. The original contracts apparently no longer exist, but there is considerable circumstantial evidence to support this. See page 641 of S. T. Joshi's "H. P. Lovecraft: A Life" for more information.
  2. According to S. T. Joshi. I can't figure out which six he means - certainly, "The Temple", "The Moon-Bog", "The Outsider", and "He" were accepted by Weird Tales before April 1926. They may have owned second rights to "The Horror at Red Hook" as well, as I am not sure when this was accepted. The fact that Wright (editor of Weird Tales) required Lovecraft's permission to add his name to the list of plaintifs in a copyright violation suit in 1929 involving this story indicates to me that Lovecraft owned the second rights. See page 452 of S. T. Joshi's "H. P. Lovecraft: A Life" for more information.