E-Book Enlightenment

Getting A Rule 6 Copyright Clearance


If you have a book published after 1922 and you want to know if it is in the public domain somewhere (not necessarily where you live) there are really only two possibilities:


  • In Canada, a book becomes public domain 50 years after the year of the author's death.  Thus you could donate the book to PG Canada and it could be legally downloaded in countries with similar copyright laws.
  • In the U.S. books published 1923-1963 and authored by U.S. citizens must have their copyrights renewed in their 28th year.  If the book isn't renewed it goes into the public domain in the U.S. and may be donated to Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.   When you attempt to prove to PG that this has happened for a book you are requesting a "Rule 6" clearance.

The Project Gutenberg Rule 6 HOWTO says:

"Based on our review of the US Library of Congress' historical renewal records, we estimate that over 85% of all registered books are never renewed, yet it is still quite important to follow all the procedures below to make a safe judgment about a book's copyright status."

A Rule 6 clearance is a fair amount of work to prepare, and will take longer to get approved.  There are currently two people checking copyright clearance requests, and the person who checks Rule 6 clearances generally does it only once a month, so a clearance will take longer to get.  The person who checks Rule 6 clearances will have to do the same work you do to prepare the submission, so it is important that you do a careful job yourself.  It would be a good idea to do several pre-1923 submissions before your first Rule 6 submission. 

If the author has been dead 50 years it would make sense to donate the book to PG Canada instead.  Those clearances go quickly because checking when an author died is not as difficult.

As a matter of policy PG will not do a Rule 6 clearance for a book by an author who was not a U.S. Citizen when the book was written.  Technically Rule 6 would apply if the book was published in the U.S. before or at the same time it was published elsewhere, but that's pretty much impossible to verify so PG will reject clearance requests for such authors.  One of the first things you should do is find out if the author was a U.S. citizen.

The second thing you should do is check either the Stanford copyright renewal database or the Rutgers one, or both.  The Stanford database is at:


and the Rutgers one is at:


The Stanford database is considered to be the more reliable of the two.  If the renewal shows up in either of these databases then you can't do a Rule 6 clearance.  In an ideal world if your author is a U.S. citizen and the renewal does not show up in either of these searches you'd be set to go.  The world is not ideal.  If you get past these hurdles you still have a lot of checking to do.  The requirements for doing a Rule 6 submission change from time to time, so you should check the latest articles on the PG and DP websites for the current requirements.

The official Rule 6 HOWTO is here:


Some other resources are at the Distributed Proofreaders website:




The last link is a template of the wording that you can paste into the form you use to submit your TP&V.  It refers to stories published in magazines then later published as a book, which is probably more complex than most submissions, so you can remove parts which are not applicable.  (A large percentage of Rule 6 submissions are stories from Science Fiction magazines). 

Here is the template in its entirety:

"This is boilerplate for reporting Rule 6 research for a story first published in a magazine, then later published in a book which we plan to use as the source to clear. Only use LOC website if needed. Only use 11800 if needed. The claimed copyright dates control this.

"Rule 6 clearance.


"Originally published in [VENUE AND DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION].

"[AUTHOR'S FULL NAME] born on [AUTHOR'S BIRTHDATE & YEAR], in [AUTHOR'S BIRTH LOCATION] and was therefore a U.S. citizen. [CITE SOURCES, e.g. Both Contemporary Authors and St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers have entries for him.]

"The edition I want to clear is a [CURRENT PUBLISHER] reprint from [YEAR OF PUBLICATION] with a [YEAR OF COPYRIGHT] copyright notice. [TITLE] was first published in the [MONTH AND YEAR] edition of [MAGAZINE TITLE] with the author as [PSEUDONYM NAME]. It's first book printing was in the [YEAR OF BOOK PUBLICATION] [BOOK PUBLISHER] of [BOOK TITLE].

"I have searched the Copyright Renewal Records at the library of congress web site for the following words as a title search: [TITLE] [ALTERNATE TITLE OR SUBTITLE] and the following words as an author search [LAST, FI], [LAST, FIRST], [PSEUDONYM LAST, FIRST], [PSEUDONYM LAST, FI] and the following words as a claimants search: [ORIGINAL PUBLISHER] and have found no indication that this story's copyright in [YEAR OF FIRST PUBLICATION] was renewed. I have also searched "The catalog of Copyright Entries" periodicals volume in the years [YEAR + 26], [YEAR + 27], [YEAR + 28] and [YEAR + 29] for a renewal of [MAGAZINE OF FIRST PUBLICATION] and have searched 11800-8.txt for the words [RARE WORD FROM TITLE], [AUTHOR'S FIRST NAME] near [AUTHOR'S LAST NAME] and have found no indication that this book's copyright in [DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION] was renewed.

"I have also reviewed the materials in the book relating to the nationality of the author and have found no reason to believe that any of the authors was a foreign national."

One final note: if you can't get a Rule 6 clearance from Project Gutenberg but have reason to believe the book deserves one, you can still donate it to the Internet Archive, and you should.