Public domain ebooks are electronic books that members of the public can freely copy and use without requesting permission. This includes books with expired copyrights as well as texts where the copyright holder has chosen to waive rights or rights do not apply. Numerous databases of public domain ebooks can be found online, and it is usually possible to find a variety of file formats to use with different types of ereaders as well as computers.
Works can enter the public domain when their copyrights expire and the copyright holder no longer has the authority to determine who can use and distribute the work. This can also occur automatically with certain types of work, such as published documents from a government; citizens can reproduce these and distribute them freely without violating the law. Individual authors or copyright holders can also choose to place an ebook in the public domain and waive its copyright.
It is legal for users to download public domain ebooks, convert them to different file formats, distribute them, share them freely, and adapt them in creative work. For example, an author could produce an annotated version of a public domain ebook and distribute that as a new creative work. The author would not need to ask for permission from the copyright holder or her estate, and could collect fees and royalties from the new work without needing to pay fees to the original copyright holder.
Some authors place their books in the public domain as a promotional tool. These authors argue that public domain ebooks reach more readers and can lead to sales. Readers might buy a hard copy, for example, or buy other ebooks by the same author after enjoying a book they found in the public domain. The exposure can also lead to more work for the author, including lecture series and other events based on the book.
Readers can access public domain ebooks through organizations that scan books in the public domain and make them available for use. Many of these organizations focus on books with expired copyrights, often with an interest in promoting them to a new generation of readers. Such books do not come with digital rights management (DRM) that would restrict the way the reader interacts with them. Readers can freely transfer them between computers, give them to friends, make them available for upload on a website, and use them in other ways.