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Copyright Status of the Writings of John Muir

Given that the majority of John Muir's Writings were published prior to a specified date [currently 1927,] most of John Muir's writings - including most of his articles and books - are in the "public domain" under U.S. copyright law. See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States by Peter Hirtle, Cornell Copyright Information Center.

We have no information about the copyright status outside the United States - we understand that different countries have varying rules for determining public domain status. In different countries, here are differences in how national copyright laws define the duration of copyright and list the categories of works protected, which results in different definitions of the public domain on a country-by-country basis.

Special Case: The Life and Letters of John Muir by William Frederic Badè in Two volumes.
Copyright 1923, copyright for volume 1 renewed 1951 by John Muir Hanna. Although the 1951 renewal extended the copyright term, this recently expired, as these two volumes were published prior to 1927, it is now in the public domain due to copyright expiration.

  • Volume 1 from Internet Archive - (off-site link)
  • Volume 2 from Internet Archive - (off-site link)

Additionally, we are aware of the following writings of John Muir which are NOT in the public domain, and remain under copyright protection under U.S. law:

1. John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe.
Copyright 1938 by Wanda Muir Hanna, copyright renewed 1966 by John Muir Hanna and Ralph Eugene Wolfe. It will be at least 95 years after its original publication before this work becomes public domain, unless Congress extends the copyright period yet again. For permission to publish excerpts, contact the Holt-Atherton Libary at the University of the Pacific.

2. Limbaugh, Ronald H. and Kirsten E. Lewis, editors, The John Muir Papers, 1858-1957 MICROFORM, (Stockton, CA: University of the Pacific , 1980).
With accompanying Guide (Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyk Healey, 1986). With 40 copies in libraries throughout the United States, and available to scholars through interlibrary loan, this is the complete collection of all extant Muir correspondence, manuscripts, notes, and illustrations. See John Muir Papers, University of the Pacific. You must pay a fee and obtain permission to reprint any of these documents.

3. In 1984, the Muir-Hanna Trust renewed the copyright on all of John Muir's unpublished works, including his journals, drawings, letters, and manuscripts. This occurred right before this material would have gone into the public domain, 70 years after Muir's death in 1914. As the direct descendents of Muir, the Trust was able to renew the copyright on unpublished works and this is why the "permission to publish" form for the John Muir Papers at the University of the Pacific includes the credit line: "John Muir Papers, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. Copyright 1984 Muir-Hanna Trust."

4. There may very well be additional writings of John Muir which were published in 1927 or later for the first time. Any of those writings may still be under copyright protection.

Disclaimer: The Sierra Club can make no guarantee or representation of the complete accuracy of the foregoing.
Readers are advised to determine copyright status of John Muir's writings with legal counsel as may be appropriate. The following are the informed opinions of the webmaster of the John Muir Exhibit, not of the Sierra Club itself, and does not constitute legal advice nor does it claim to be authoritative.

22 March 2022

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