Statement on Manuscript Use

Generally speaking, all materials including manuscripts of works published before roughly 1920 are in the public domain as of 1 January 2003. Current law extends copyright for 70 years after the author’s death. (There’s some interest in increasing the 70 years to 80 or 95, but that is irrelevant for Cooper who died in 1851.)

For certain types of work, copyright is good for 95 years from first publication or 120 years from the year of its creation–but that still does not include Cooper’s works.

There are a few other avenues for protection that could be explored in specific cases – for example, copyrights for editorial material the Cooper Edition (CE) adds to the manuscripts would of course be protected. Also, materials written by Cooper but never published, circulated or registered are subject to “common law copyright” protection which extends through the end of this year (2002), and which would receive an additional 45 years of protection if such works are published before the end of 2002. (This protection may exclude letters broadly circulated to recipients, but would include anything he wrote but never disclosed in any fashion, such as drafts of letters never sent or published in any form, and writings that had such a limited distribution that they would not be deemed to have been “published.”)

Libraries owning manuscript materials may still exert control over who has access to their holdings and may restrict the right to publish manuscripts in their collections.