The H.P. Lovecraft Wiki

This subject is written on a topic in the real world and reflects factual information. There is controversy over the copyright status of some of the fiction works of American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. His writings published in 1928 or earlier are automatically in the public domain; his work published in 1929 or later may also be in the public domain.

In the United States, the copyright on works published before 1978 expires after 95 years. This means that as of 2024, all works published before 1928 are in the public domain, so no permission or payment is needed to reprint or adapt them. This category includes many well-known Lovecraft stories, including "The Rats in the Walls" (1924), "The Festival" (1925), "The Colour Out of Space" (1927), "Pickman's Model" (1927), and "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928).

Works published after 1928 and before 1964, which would include all the remainder of Lovecraft's fiction, may still be in copyright if they were originally published with a copyright notice, and if that copyright was renewed by the copyright holder after 28 years. It is unclear whether any of Lovecraft's fictional work meets both criteria.

Questions center on who exactly owns or owned the copyrights, and whether the copyrights for the majority of Lovecraft's works published post-1928 — including such prominent pieces as "At the Mountains of Madness" — were renewed as required.

Regardless of the legal disagreements surrounding Lovecraft's works, Lovecraft himself was extremely generous with his own works, and actively encouraged others to borrow ideas from his stories, particularly with regard to his Cthulhu Mythos. By "wide citation" he hoped to give his works an "air of verisimilitude", and actively encouraged other writers to reference his creations, such as the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. After his death, many writers have contributed stories and enriched the shared mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as making numerous references to his work. (See Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture)

Copyright Ownership[]

Lovecraft had specified that the young R. H. Barlow would serve as executor of his literary estate, though these instructions had not been incorporated into his will. Nevertheless, his surviving aunt, Annie Gamwell, carried out his expressed wishes, and Barlow was given charge of the massive and complex literary estate upon Lovecraft's death.

Barlow deposited the bulk of the papers, including the voluminous correspondence, with the John Hay Library at Brown University. However, as a young writer with no legal training, his efforts to organize and maintain Lovecraft's other writing stood little chance of success. August Derleth, an older and more established writer than Barlow, vied for control of the literary estate. One result of these conflicts was the legal confusion over who owned what copyrights.

Lovecraft protégés and part owners of Arkham House, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, often claimed copyrights over Lovecraft's works. On October 9, 1947, Derleth purchased all rights to Weird Tales. However, since April 1926 at the latest, Lovecraft had reserved all second printing rights to stories published in Weird Tales. Hence, Weird Tales may only have owned the rights to at most six of Lovecraft's tales. Again, even if Derleth did obtain the copyrights to Lovecraft's tales, no evidence as yet has been found that the copyrights were renewed.

Prominent Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi concludes in his biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, that Derleth's claims are "almost certainly fictitious" and that most of Lovecraft's works published in the amateur press are most likely now in the public domain. The copyright for Lovecraft's works would have been inherited by the only surviving heir of his 1912 will: Lovecraft's aunt, Annie Gamwell. Gamwell herself perished in 1941 and the copyrights then passed to her remaining descendants, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis. Morrish and Lewis then signed a document, sometimes referred to as the Morrish-Lewis gift, permitting Arkham House to republish Lovecraft's works but retaining the copyrights for themselves. Searches of the Library of Congress have failed to find any evidence that these copyrights were then renewed after the 28-year period and, hence, it is likely that these works are now in the public domain.

According to an essay by Peter Ruber, the former editor of Arkham House, called "The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth", certain letters obtained in June 1998 detail the Derleth-Wandrei acquisition of Lovecraft's estate. It is unclear whether these letters contradict Joshi's views on Lovecraft's copyrights.

In Other Countries[]

In most countries, copyright lapses after a certain number of years after the author's death--usually either 50 or 70 years. For example, the European Union Directive of 1993 that harmonised the term of copyright protection extended the copyrights to 70 years after the author's death. So all works of Lovecraft published during his lifetime became public domain in all 27 European Union countries on 1 January, 2008.

In those Berne Convention countries who have implemented only the minimum copyright period, copyright expires 50 years after the author's death.


Trademarks are protections of words or images that identify products or services for marketing purposes; they are separate from copyrights and do not automatically expire.

Chaosium, publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, have a trademark on several Lovecraftian phrases, including "The Call of Cthulhu", for use in game products. Another RPG publisher, TSR, Inc., original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, included in one of that game's earlier supplements, Deities & Demigods (originally published in 1980 and later renamed to Legends & Lore), a section on the Cthulhu Mythos; TSR, Inc. later removed this section from subsequent editions because of an existing contract between Chaosium and the claimants to the Lovecraft copyrights at the time, Arkham House.

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