Let's take "Mark Twain - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as example. You can find it for sale on google play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mark_Twain_Adventures_of_Huckleberry_Finn?id=s0O_QHm5Vl8C

and for free on Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/76

Project Gutenberg hosts ebooks that are in public domain (long dead authors, with copyright expired ). Here are the terms of use for Adventure of Huckleberry Finn:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Complete
by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net

There are thousands of public domain ebooks that are being sold on various websites . Can anyone anyone shed some light into this ?

The reason i'm asking this question is that I'm planning to translate some public domain books in my language and distribute them for free (me and some other volunteers). Can anyone tell me if there are any European Union laws that would prohibit this ?

  • 7
    Simply because they can - public domain works can be sold by anyone, if you can find someone willing to pay for them
    – Steve
    Jan 26, 2016 at 0:28
  • It's not google that is selling this per se, it's Penguin publishing company. Google books allows any third party to sell their digital goods through their market place. You could probably go list the same book for free and Penguin couldn't do anything about it. Jan 26, 2016 at 0:29
  • Welcome to Money.SE. Please take the tour to see how the site works and what questions are on topic here. Jan 26, 2016 at 0:35
  • 4
    Public domain essentially means anyone can do anything they want with it. This includes selling it. You can also walk into a bookstore and buy a physical copy of Huckleberry Finn that someone is selling. Public domain doesn't mean no one can sell it, it means anyone can sell it.
    – BrenBarn
    Jan 26, 2016 at 5:23
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about the business practice of public domain products, not PF. Jan 26, 2016 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Wait. You equate public domain to being free. Public domain does mean that the source doesn't get paid.

Remember when Its a Wonderful Life was in the public domain? TV stations still showed it, and they ran advertisements.

Thousands of students each year buy Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, and thousands of others purchase tickets to see their local high school perform the play, or watch a film version.

People pay money for those versions because a person, or people, or a printer put work into producing the product.

You can't take the files directly from Project Gutenberg and sell them, you need to add value. In the case of Huck Finn Google thinks that version does add value. Therefore they do allow them to charge for that version.

If the work your propose to translate is in the public domain in the country you will be selling, then you can avoid having to pay royalties for the source material. But you will have to check the copyright situation yourself.

  • 4
    "You can't take the files directly from Project Gutenberg and sell them" sure you can. The files are public domain. Hard to see why anyone would ever pay you, but you can try to sell them if you want. Jan 26, 2016 at 14:49

I found google policy regarding public domain content:

Content comprised predominantly of public domain material is not accepted due to its widespread duplication. Multiple versions of the same book confuse our users and provide little distinguishing value. We allow select partners to submit curated editions of public domain books to ensure their availability, but we're not offering this exemption to others at this time.

They allow "select partners" to sell public domain books that most times are identical to the original version (usually sold for 1$). Other book versions feature notes or a critical introduction and the price goes up to 10 $ .

Also, you cannot list books for free in google play. The minimum price is 1$ .

  • 1
    This would be a decent answer if you removed the last line. Jan 26, 2016 at 16:46

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