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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.

Search here for works in the public domain published between 1922 and 1950.

Search the Library of Congress for works in the public domain published from 1978-present.

A

Horatio Alger

Dime store novelist famous for his rags-to-riches stories. All of his work is in the public domain. Famous stories include The Store Boy and Ragged Dick.

Hans Christian Anderson

All of this famous Dane’s works are in the public domain. Famous stories include “Thumbelina“, “The Ugly Duckling“, “The Little Mermaid“, “The Emperor’s New Clothes “, and “The Princess and the Pea

Jane Austen

Well known novels include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. All of her work is in the public domain.

B

Honore de Balzac

The “French Charles Dickens” whose famous stories include The Girl With the Golden Eyes and Father Goriot. All of his works are in the public domain.

Charlotte Bronte

All of her work is in the public domain including her most famous novel Jane Eyre.

Emily Bronte

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

Best known for the children’s stories The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. All of her works are in the public domain.

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.

C

Lewis Carroll

Famous mathematician and author whose works include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass and The Hunting Of The Snark. All of his work is in the public domain.

James Fenimore Cooper

This boring writer of frontier life is stiff as a board just like his writing which is all in the public domain. His more famous tales include The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer.

D

Daniel Defoe

All of his works are in the public domain. His most well known stories are Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.

Charles Dickens

All of Dickens’s work is in the public domain. Famous stories include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

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

Fyodor Dostoevsky

All of his works are in the public domain including Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov

G

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

All of this German writer’s works are in the public domain. His most famous works include The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust.


Brothers Grimm

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.

H

Nathaniel Hawthorne

I can’t stand his writing, but it’s all in the public domain so go ahead and try to make a watchable version of The Scarlet Letter or The House of the Seven Gables.

Homer

Not Simpson, but the Greek guy who wrote the epic poems the The Odyssey and the The Iliad, both of which are in the public domain.

J

James Joyce

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.

K

Franz Kafka

This unique writer from Prague has a few stories that have fallen in the public domain. The most famous being The Metamorphosis.

Rudyard Kipling

Some, but not all, of Kipling’s work is in the public domain including The Jungle Book.

L

Jack London

All of this pioneering American writer’s body of work is in the public domain. His most famous stories include The Call of the Wild and White Fang.

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.

M

Herman Melville

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.

P

Edgar Allan Poe

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.

R

Rudolf Erich Raspe

All of his works are in the public domain including his most famous story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

S

William Shakespeare

The Bard’s been dead for a long time, hence, all of his work is in the public domain. Knock yourself out with your own version of Hamlet, Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet.

Mary Shelley

All of her writing is in the public domain including the ever popular Frankenstein. Her other famous books include The Last Man and Matilda.

Robert Louis Stevenson

All of this writer’s work is in the public domain including the popular stories Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, and New Arabian Nights.

Bram Stoker

All of this writer’s work is in the public domain including Dracula, The Jewel Of Seven Stars, The Lady Of The Shroud and The Lair Of The White Worm.

T

Mark Twain

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.

V

Jules Verne

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.

W

H.G. Wells

Only some of Wells’s stories are in the public domain but they include The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds.

Oscar Wilde

All of this witty playwright’s work is in the public domain. His most famous stories are The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Johann David Wyss

This writer’s most famous story The Swiss Family Robinson is in the public domain.

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