I have about 10 old books written about meditation and diet written by
a Buddhist scholar in India between 1855 and 1910. He himself
published all books in his life, and after his death, four different
groups of his followers published his collection, including his next
three generations in family. They published these books at different
times in various countries including USA and UK and they still do
that. Two of these groups claim to have copyrights of these books, one
of which is his family, although they operate as "not for profit". Now
these books are in Tibetan language and only portions of them have
I plan to do a translation of all of this collection but these groups
claim and enforce their copyright and either don't give permission or
seek money for any kind of work I plan to do on the books. I am doing
it on "not for profit" basis and plan to make it available online.
My question is that, is it possible that a work like this old still
protected by copyright laws? As the original work was in India, what
is its copyright status in other countries especially USA and UK? Can
these people extend and take over copyright by just publishing the
books after author's death? How can I find out which group rightfully
has copyright of the books?
Clarification of Question bysusanp-ga
Just a clarification, the author died in 1910. He never travelled
anywhere outside of India.
Request for Question Clarification bypafalafa-ga
In all likeliehood, the original works are copyright-free at this
point, especially if you are quite sure that the works were actually
published during the author's lifetime.
However, it wasn't clear from you question whether you would be
working off originally-published (pre-1910) texts, or from books
published at a later date. If the latter, then these books MAY
contain some copyright-protected materials, if, for instance, they
contain annotations to the original text.
Be aware, though, that even if the law (for the US, UK and India) is
on your side on this matter, someone who feels their copyright has
been infringed can still bring a complaint against you and take the
matter to court. You may win in the end, but it can be a miserable
and costly process in the mean time. It may be worth your while to
try to come to an understanding with the groups involved before
undertaking your work.
Beyond this, it is not possible to provide a detailed analysis of US,
UK and Indian copyright law in the scope of a $20 question. The rule
of thumb, though, is that — if more than 70 years have passed since
the death of the author — the materials are copyright-free.
I can point you to sites for US, UK and Indian copyright law that
discuss how long copyright lasts, in general. Please be aware,
however, that these are complex areas of the law and — rules of thumb
notwithstanding — there are sometimes exceptions.
Let me know what else you need to make for a complete answer to your
question, and I'll see if I can get it for you.
All the best,