"Epicurus and his Philosophy" Copyright Protection

  • NB: A free downloadable PDF of this text is available at a link at the bottom of this post.



    Elli and I have discussed getting it translated to Greek too, but so far have not made much progress. We contacted the University of Minnesota press about it and It remains in copyright for another decade or two.

    -A post from Cassius in 2019


    2050. It remains in copyright until 2050.

    I didn't know Cassius and Elli had taken that step, but I was curious about it myself, so I verified it with a search of the online records of the copyright office.

    Here's how it works. In 1954, when the book was published, the term of copyright was 28 years from the date of publication, renewable for an additional 28 years. Both the original copyright notice and the renewal had to be registered with the Copyright Office. This would have given a maximum copyright life of 56 years, which would have ended in 2011.

    But in 1976, and again in 1998, the rules changed. In order to deal with existing copyright protections, the following measure was introduced: for a work published in 1954 (to stick to the matter at hand), the work would remain in copyright for 95 years, if and only if the copyright claimant had registered both (1.) the original notice at the time of publication, and (2.) the renewal notice at 28 years (1981). I have unfortunately been able to verify that both notices are on record.

    Dewitt is listed as the copyright claimant. As he died in 1958, and his Classicist son died in 1981 [edit: 1966], it is not immediately clear who filed the renewal notice. His grandchildren? The University of Minnesota press?

    I have more reading to do.

    PDF link:

    Epicurus and His Philosophy | Norman Wentworth DeWitt | download

  • One further point; his two books on Virgil (1907 and 1923) are well out of copyright. I've never seen the text of either. Saint Paul and Epicurus was also published in 1954, and the renewal notice is also on record. Under copyright until 2050.

  • It's interesting that Erik Anderson (deceased now, I think) on his Epicurus.info site published the full text of St Paul and Epicurus. If I remember correctly he answered it was not in copyright, but I may be remembering that wrong. He did not however include the full text of "Epicurus and His Philosophy."

    There are a variety of sites that don't appear to have the same regard for copyright laws where "Epicurus and His Philosophy" can be found without charge. I suppose the situation is that as with many things in life you're "on your own" as to what you choose to do with those sites.

  • I spent a few years watching the copies of Epicurus and His Philosophy on Amazon until the $56 price tag for each of the four used copies floating around dropped to $20 from one seller. I was able to acquire it a few months ago.

    The years prior to that, since I first saw Cassius mention the book in about 2014, I did some searching for an online PDF, downloaded it from some web pirate, printed out the book on a Konica Minolta at work, and then shared it with anyone who was interested. As with drugs, making something hard-to-acquire (inadvertently) encourages piracy, and leads otherwise honest enthusiasts down paths that can lead to predictably-risky places.

    It sure would be nice if the University of Minnesota could introduce a few more copies into circulation. Or, if the current owners of the copyright would re-publish the book. I think $60 for a used copy demonstrates economic demand.

    I would like to find some solution involving connecting with the copyright owners, because I think it is clear that we all recognize this as an important piece of literature that needs to be shared.

  • The practical question of risk depends largely on the terms of the agreement DeWitt had with Minnesota University Press. Did he transfer the copyright to them, or did he merely license to them the publication rights? If the latter, it may be that the only people with standing to bring action against infringement are his heirs, presumably his living grandchildren, or his executor, presumably also dead.

    It would certainly be nice to have a resolution.

  • My wife is very familiar with digging up the copyright details on a work. She has expressed willingness to go after this. I'll keep you posted

  • OK first, confirmation of what Joshua said, Dewitt being the claimant for the 1981 renewal:

    Dewitt is listed as the copyright claimant. As he died in 1958, and his Classicist son died in 1981 [edit: 1966], it is not immediately clear who filed the renewal notice.

    ...from the US copyright office:

    ------- Original Message -------

    On Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022 at 7:50 PM, <no-reply@loc.gov> wrote:

    > Type of Work: Text


    > Registration Number / Date:

    > RE0000141545 / 1982-11-01

    > Renewal registration for: A00000127469 / 1954-02-15


    > Title: Epicurus and his philosophy. By Norman Wentworth DeWitt.


    > Copyright Claimant:

    > Norman W. DeWitt (C)


    > Variant title: Epicurus and his philosophy.


    > Names: DeWitt, Norman Wentworth

    > DeWitt, Norman W.



    > ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    > The Library of Congress

    > United States Copyright Office

    > 101 Independence Ave., S.E.

    > Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

    > 202-707-3000

  • Greenwood Publishing Group Inc. reprinted the book in 1976 and is listed (in the Copyright Clearance Center and elsewhere) as one of two listed publishers of the book, along with University of Minnesota Press, who of course did the original printing.

    Greenwood's parent company is ABC Clio. Contact info listed for them on their web page:



    147 Castillion Drive

    Santa Barbara CA 93117

    800-368-6868 or 805-968-1911 (open 7-4:30 Pacific)

    I'm emailing ABC-Clio to see if they can tell me if and how one might obtain permission to translate.

  • ABC Clio directed me to University of Minnesota Pres for help with how to go about getting rights to translate this work. But they also said usually it is a publisher who requests this. Elli and/or Haris Dimitriadis and/or other Epicureans in Greece might want to try to engage some publisher there who might be willing to help out?

  • Well we'll see if a 2nd hit produces any different result. We would probably have a better standing if we had a Greek publishing entity to work with. Cassius any suggestions on that? Who are our Greek friends that might work on this part of the equation?

  • Elli was the one most involved at the time so that is the place we ought to start.

    However I am not aware of their being current interest in this in Greece, so until there is a new rise of interest there I suspect other languages will just be waiting on the copyright to expire.

  • I received this response from U of Minnesota Press:

    On Thursday, May 12th, 2022 at 12:29 PM, Jeffery Moen <moenx017@umn.edu> wrote:


    Your request has been passed along to me.

    Typically, we work directly with the publisher of the translation, but if that doesn’t apply in this case, then I would need more information about what you intend to do with the translation in terms of distribution, sale, and formats (would you produce a hard copy of the translation, and if so, how many copies would be printed and would it be intended for sale, or would distribution be online?).

    Please provide more detailed information and your request will be taken into consideration.

    All best,

    Jeff Moen

    Rights and Contracts

    University of Minnesota Press


    From: SLH <SLHenderson@pm.me>
    Subject: How can translation permissions be obtained for a book you have published

    Date: May 5, 2022 at 11:21:50 PM CDT

    To: "ump@umn.edu" <ump@umn.edu>

    Reply-To: SLH <SLHenderson@pm.me>

    Hello! I'm a member of an online group studying Epicurean philosophy. Certain
    members of this group are interested in learning how one would go about
    obtaining permission to translate this book into Greek:

    Title: Epicurus and His Philosophy

    Author: Norman Wentworth Dewitt

    ISBN: 9780816662128

    "Related ISBN": 9780816657452

    (I don't know the difference between these 2 ISBN numbers)

    Please let me know of any questions you might have about this. Any assistance greatly appreciated!

    Scott Henderson

    Tucson, Arizona


    Susan Doerr
    Associate Director | University of Minnesota Press | upress.umn.edu

    612-301-1987 | doer0012@umn.edu

    she, her, hers

    University of Minnesota Press Code of Conduct z.umn.edu/umpconduct


    Who would be able to respond to the questions posed by Jeffery Moen, in the above email?


  • I think that's similar to what was received before. Since none of us are publishers or in the business I am not sure that there is any way forward unless someone in Greece picks up the initiative.

  • Well, this Jeff fellow DOES leave open the door to not requiring a publisher in order to make this happen. UofM Press might just print it themselves. We don't have any interest in making $ off of this venture, we just want the book to exist. But we do need someone to present a proposal for printing off a few copies. I might even try to do that, but do you think Elli, or whoever you have as contacts in Greece, would consider helping out at all? Not to FUND it or anything, just to present their desire and ability to do the translation part. If we don't have anyone willing to actually go after the translation, there is no point working on this!

  • Let's tag Elli here and see what she says. I have a feeling this is one of those things where the "stars are going to have to align" and as series of things happen serendipitously for it to come together. Eventually it would be great to see it printed in lots of languages, but it's going to take some pretty good technical translators.