OK, let me try this again:Hi Dave,
I am pleased that you found your way to this forum. It's nice to read from someone who knew Cliff personally.
I know that you are managing the estate of Clifford Simak. That is indeed on the SFWA site.
What I always wanted to ask: In the Project Gutenberg[/URL] 5 works of Simak are freely available, which were often reprinted by various small publishers since about 2008. There are Hellhounds of the Cosmos[/URL]" (1932), The Street That Wasn't There[/URL]" (1941), Empire[/URL]" (1950), "Project Mastodon[/URL]" (1955) and The World That Couldn't Be[/URL]" (1958). Why this works, why not others?
All the mentioned works have been published from 1923 to 1963. If I understand the United States copyright law[/URL] correctly, it means: If the copyright was renewed, the works would have to be 95 years still protected after their appearance. If the copyright was not renewed, they are public domain.
Are only the mentioned 5 works Public domain, or all published before 1963?
Incidentally, it is recently at CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform published a new book: "The Clifford Simak Collection[/URL]". (The book is still missing in my bibliography[/URL].) Besides the mentioned 5 free works, there are also included "Cosmic Engineers[/URL]" (1939), "Ring Around The Sun[/URL]" (1952) and Galactic Chest[/URL]" (1956). I hope the publisher has paid the fees. Or are these three works now also Public Domain?
Let me start by saying that answering your questions may take a while, and for that reason I may skim over some of the intricacies I would otherwise put in my answer... (Being a lawyer of sorts, I am -- you are warned! -- quite nit-picky (that's a colloquialism, Ralf; it it puzzles you, please say so.))
The basis problem with those copyrights is that the writers of the 30's, 40's, 50's -- sometimes even later -- generally did not understand the need for renewal. As Gordy Dickson told me, most of those older writers had no idea that a story that had once been published might be able to make them more money at a later time. Moreover, I suspect that if they thought about the issue at all, most of those writers would have assumed that the publishers would renew the copyrights.
All too often, publishers never did so.
That was particularly true in the early part of what I call the Science Fiction Age. In fact, some publishers were so clueless that they never put the (very much required!) copyright notice in their magazines -- in that case, under the copyright law of the time, the stories in those magazines went into the public domain immediately.
In addition, on occasion publishers would put the copyright notice into the magazine but then fail to actually file the copyright application form with the Copyright Office -- again, the story would not be copyrighted, and would fall into the public domain.
(And I'm willing to bet that there were times when the copyright notice appeared in the magazine and the publisher filed the paperwork -- but the Copyright Office lost it...there's just no way to tell, now -- but one has only to look at the Registers of Copyright Entries (the big, BIG books, which can be found in certain libraries, that list copyrights) to realize that those people were quite primitive... Most of those volumes are clearly mere photocopies of typewritten pages, and it's all too easy to envision typographical errors, omissions, etc.)
Eventually, authors learned that they needed to renew their copyrights themselves (and so did some of the magazines, leading to the unusual situation where a copyright might be renewed twice...) But an author cannot renew a copyright that was never created in the first place. And even when everyone was getting better, magazines still, even into the 60's, would occasionally forget to put in the copyright notice (that was the case with a number of stories). (I'm doing this note while away from home, so I can't check my files; but I think that "Galactic Chest" fell into one of those categories.)(I have spent a lot of time trying to dig up copyright information, believe me!)
EMPIRE, however, was kind of a special case: Cliff disliked it so much that he refused to allow any reprints; and I suspect that might be why he never renewed its copyright.
Let me add, finally, that U.S. Copyright law is far more complicated than most people realize -- it has been amended a number of times over the last century, generally having the effect of increasing the length of protection available to the author. But that also makes for more confusion, alas.