The original book was published in 1912 and the author died in 1930.
The book was republished in 1980 after the life + 50 years copyright had expired. The book was edited to remove some chapters and paragraphs.
In 1995 (i think) the laws chaged to life + 70 years, taking the original book back into copyright until 2000.
I have been told by others that because in 1980 the copyright had expired the person who re-published it in effect acquired a new copyright on the content and layout of the original due to them publishing effectively a facsimile of the original.
So in effect I could re-publish the original, but because it would be the same as the reprint I would be breaking the copyright of the person who republished in 1980.
Any advice gratefully received.
There are two separate copyright aspects at work here: (literary) copyright in the original text which, from what you have said, appears to have run out at the end of 1980, and copyright in the typographical layout of the book published in 1980. The literary copyright would not have been revived by the 1988 Copyright Act extending the term post mortem, because the original term had already expired.
However there are a couple of things which might need closer examination. Firstly if the author died in 1930 then his literary copyright would not have expired until 31 December 1980 and if the book was re-published without permsiion in 1980 this would amount to infringement. Also if this second version was in fact a facsimile of the original book then there would be no new typographical layout involved and so no new copyright.
The fact that the second publisher claims to have copyright may well not stand up to scrutiny.8 Published editions.
(1) In this Part “published edition”, in the context of copyright in the typographical arrangement of a published edition, means a published edition of the whole or any part of one or more literary, dramatic or musical works.
(2) Copyright does not subsist in the typographical arrangement of a published edition if, or to the extent that, it reproduces the typographical arrangement of a previous edition.
In any case even if the typographical layout of the 1980 version was considered to be a new edition since it differs from the original due to the abridgement you mentioned, the duration of copyright in a published edition (ie the typographical layout) only lasts for 25 years, meaning that a book published in 1980 would now be out of copyright.
I hope this helps to clarify matters.15 Duration of copyright in typographical arrangement of published editions.Copyright in the typographical arrangement of a published edition expires at the end of the period of 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.
Note: both quotes are from the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act, but Section 15 of the 1956 Copyright Act says substantially the same thing about published editions. Indeed in some respects it is clearer in that it says that any published edition which is made by "any photographic or similar process" of reproduction of an earlier edition does not result in a new copyright.