H.G. Wells's books enter the public domain

Edinburgh Napier academics contribute to a new H.G. Wells book series after copyright protection of the celebrated writer's works lapses

Date posted

11 January 2017

12:30

Last updated

12 January 2017

H.G. Wells was a prolific British writer who was born in the Edwardian era and died in the Nuclear Age. His most notable works include The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine.

Now, seventy years after his death, these famous books have entered the public domain. This means that copyright law no longer applies and that his works are free for anyone and everyone to access, use and enjoy.

To mark this entry into public ownership, new editions of H.G. Wells’s books have been published, edited by Edinburgh Napier’s Professor Linda Dryden. Prof Dryden, Dr. Andrew Frayn, and Dr. Emily Alder from the School of Arts and Creative Industries have also contributed introductions and reading notes to this new collection.

Why is the expiration of intellectual property rights significant?

Prof. Dryden says: “The ability to quote extensively from Wells’s work without having to get permission and pay his estate is the main advantage of his work coming out of copyright.

“When I wrote my book on Conrad and Wells in 2015 I had to pay a substantial sum to his estate in order to quote from his works. Now authors are free from that constraint.”

H.G. Wells’s works may now be free to use but are his ideas still relevant? Prof. Dryden thinks so.

“Wells’s work remains hugely relevant to us today because his imagination was just so prophetic. He envisaged global warming, nuclear warfare, and even imagined ‘sham glowing log’ fires in his 1901 book Anticipations.

“Today we find some of his ideas for political and social reform rather worrying or idealistic, but his fiction is so compelling that it remains fresh and immensely approachable even to this day.”

H.G. Wells died in 1946 at the age of 79. Often described as a man ahead of his time, what would he make of the world in 2017?

Prof. Dryden said: “I think that were Wells to get into his time machine and travel forward to 2017 he would be both horrified and amazed at how the world has turned out.

“He would see that his ideals for society and for the evolution of humankind would not have been realised and that war and inequality still pervade the world.

“But he would also see so many things that he had predicted had come true: television, the Wikipedia, escalators, credit cards, soap operas, space travel—the list goes on.”

So, which of H.G. Wells’s celebrated books should you read first? Prof. Dryden has a favourite: “I would urge everyone to read The Invisible Man. It is hugely readable, funny, yet intensely humane all at the same time.”

As of 1 January 2017, you can access an H.G. Wells classic, including The Invisible Man, for free. If you prefer a different medium – though not yet in the public domain - you could listen to Orson Welles’ notorious radio adaption of The War of the Worlds. For the cinema buff, there’s Steven Spielberg’s big-budget 2005 adaption, too.

However you choose to rediscover H.G. Wells’s ideas, you can now expect to see a revival in scholarship on one of Britain’s best known writers, and Edinburgh Napier is set to contribute to the resurgence.

New editions of HG Wells’s work, featuring contributions from Edinburgh Napier experts, are published by Wordsworth.