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This is by no means a complete list, merely a starting point for entrepreneurial screenwriters and filmmakers. Please remember that this list is for the original stories by these authors. Many of these works have already been produced for film and television and contain famous story elements particular to that adaptation that are not in the original works. Those story elements are not in the public domain. Only the original story from the original work by these authors.
For example, the original story of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm differs greatly from the story in Walt Disney’s more famous animated version. If you were to adapt a version of Snow White and used elements from Disney’s version like the Prince waking Snow White up with a kiss, then you would be in violation of Disney’s copyright. Another example is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which is in the public domain. If you’re adaptation includes a version of Frankenstein’s monster with bolts in his neck, then you would be in violation of Universal’s copyright of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.
Everything published before 1923 is in the public domain.
Hans Christian Anderson
All of her work is in the public domain including her most famous novel Jane Eyre.
Just like her sister, all of her work is in the public domain. Her only novel is the oft filmed Wuthering Heights.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Creator and author of Tarzan of the Apes. Only some of his work is in the public domain including the original Tarzan of the Apes and At the Earth’s Core. Please check the availability of his other stories before adapting his other works.
James Fenimore Cooper
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Most, but not all, of his works are in the public domain. The later Sherlock Holmes stories may not yet fall under the public domain but all of his stories before 1923 have including many involving his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes. Other well known stories include The Poison Belt and The Lost World
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Two German brothers who were famous collectors of fairy tales. Their versions of the famous fairy tales are all in the public domain including such cherished gems as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood.
You’ll have to wait a few years before you’ll be able to film an adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake. If you start now, you might be able to finish reading it by the time it falls into the public domain. Until then, you can adapt some of Joyce’s other well known works like Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
This unique writer from Prague has a few stories that have fallen in the public domain. The most famous being The Metamorphosis.
Some, but not all, of Kipling’s work is in the public domain including The Jungle Book.
H. P. Lovecraft
All of this bizarre horror writer’s work before 1923 is in the public domain. For his post 1923 work, do your research as many of his stories are involved in complicated copyright disputes.
All of this author’s work is in the public domain. His most famous story is the required reading for high school students Moby Dick.
Roger Corman has exploited much of Poe’s work and you can too. All of this macabre author’s work is in the public domain. His more famous works include The Raven, Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Mask Of Red Death, The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Black Cat, The Pit And The Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart.
Rudolf Erich Raspe
All of his works are in the public domain including his most famous story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
Robert Louis Stevenson
All of this amazing American literary genius’s work is in the public domain. His most famous stories are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
All of this entertaining French writer’s work is in the public domain. His most famous works include Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Mysterious Island and Around the World in Eighty Days.
Johann David Wyss
This writer’s most famous story The Swiss Family Robinson is in the public domain.