George Orwell is out of copyright. What happens now?

Much of the author’s work may have fallen into public ownership in the UK, but there are more restrictions on its use remaining than you might expect, explains his biographer

George Orwell died at University College Hospital, London, on 21 January 1950 at the early age of 46. This means that unlike such long-lived contemporaries as Graham Greene (died 1991) or Anthony Powell (died 2000), the vast majority of his compendious output (21 volumes to date) is newly out of copyright as of 1 January. Naturally, publishers – who have an eye for this kind of opportunity – have long been at work to take advantage of the expiry date and the next few months are set to bring a glut of repackaged editions.

The Oxford University Press is producing World’s Classics versions of the major books and there are several bulky compendia about to hit the shelves – see, for example, the Flame Tree Press’s George Orwell: Visions of Dystopia. I have to declare an interest myself, having spent much of the spring lockdown preparing annotated editions of Orwell’s six novels, to be issued at the rate of two a year before the appearance of my new Orwell biography (a successor to 2003’s Orwell: The Life) in 2023. As for the tide of non-print spin-offs, an Animal Farm video game hit cyberspace in mid-December.

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