I am writing a novel that is historical fiction. I want to include quotes from newspaper articles. The time period is during the 1840's so that helps me with the copyright questions. My concerns have been if old works like poems and pamphlets were ever reprinted in modern days. Could someone still own the copyright in that case? Even if the character in the novel would clearly be referring to the original work?The issue of whether or not a copyright can be re-instituted after it once expires is an interesting issue. A not too recent situation was created by the the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), which implemented the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). (URAA is Pub. L. No. 103-465, 108 Stat. 4809, enacted December 8, 1994.) According to the U.S. Copyright Office:
In 1996, copyright was automatically restored in certain foreign works that were then in the public domain in the United States but were protected by copyright or neighboring rights in the source country. Owners of a restored work were directed to notify reliance parties if the owner of the rights planned to enforce the rights. One means of notification was filing with the Copyright Office a Notice of Intent to Enforce (NIE) a Restored Copyright.For even more details on this situation, see the following:
Outside of that narrow area of the law, the standard answer to the question above should be a simple, no. But as with everything dealing with copyright, there is no simple answer. Reprinting a work that is clearly in the public domain does not "renew" or "recreate" a copyright in the work. However, tens of thousands of public domain works, such as books, poems etc., are re-published with claims to copyright. Here is an example. This book was printed in 1921 and is clearly in the public domain:
McClintock, James H. Mormon Settlement in Arizona; a Record of Peaceful Conquest of the Desert. 1921.
Here is one of the many reprints that are all marked as "copyrighted:"
There are ten editions of this book listed in WorldCat.com and four of them are listed as being published in 1971, with one listed as published in 2006. Google Books lists two editions, one is a full text copy and the other is listed as "No eBook available." So who do you believe? You might also notice that the reprint of the book misspelled the author's name. Was that done on purpose to create the impression that the book was not the same as the public domain copy? Your guess is as good as mine.
I have had a Federal District Court case where the Plaintiff claimed a copyright interest in a daguerrotype from the 1840s. Anything like this can happen if someone wants to make an issue of it. What I can say for sure is that if you have any concerns at all, you should seek competent legal counsel in the place where you live. Make sure the person you talk to knows copyright law specifically and covers some of the issues I have raised in this post. Please see my Disclosures and Disclaimers linked above.