In many countries, books enter the public domain at a specific interval after the death of the authors. Unfortunately, it's often not easy to find out when authors died, and thus determine if a particular book is in the public domain in your country.
The Online Books Page now has death years for many of the authors in its database, and is continuing to add them as we add new records and update old ones. To see the author death dates associated with one of our listings, as well as other information about a listed book, select the icon next to the listing.
If there are authors listed without death dates, you may need to find the death dates yourself. Fortunately, there are a number of places you can look for this information, both online and offline. (If you do find reliable information on the death year of an author that we don't currently list with death dates, please let us know, so we can add this information to our own listings.)
For European authors, the CERL Thesaurus is a useful source of information on names from the hand-press era (1450- ca. 1830), drawn from the authority files of numerous European countries.
If you understand a bit of German, the German National Library also has a searchable website for names: Deutsche Nationalbibliografie. Additional resources of particular interest to German speakers can be found in this Archivalia post (in German) by Klaus Graf.
WorldCat Identities may be helpful as well. It draws from various sources, including authority files and bibliographic data. (Among other things, it can be used to tell when an author's works were published, which in some cases may be early enough that you can safely assume the author died long enough ago to be out of copyright.)
You may also want to consider checking Wikipedia, which has a wide variety of articles on individuals, possibly including the person you're interested in. (And there are even more names covered in web pages indexed by Google and other search engines.) To judge the reliability of the death year information on a given article or page, look for citations for the death year claimed, and see if they're from sources you trust.
Thanks to Klaus Graf for suggesting many of the resources above.
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