Q: I own an old book by Enos Mills. I'm using it inspire a new story. Last copy right was 1939. How can I do this legally?
The original book has many stories in it. One is about beavers that I'm using to write a children's book. I'd like to use some of his words verbatim but I'm not sure if that's legal. The children's story summarizes that original work. All artwork will be done by me. I would also like to use his title for the children's book if that's allowed. Original copyright was 1909, the most recent was 1939. Publisher is Houghton Mifflin Co and The Riverside Press Cambridge. Thank you in advance.
You need to consult with an attorney to understand your options.
Depending on how you use the material, how much, when the copyright expires, etc. you may have some legal right to do it.
Your question packs in 3 issues: 1) use of words verbatim; 2) use of the title; and 3) whether the copyright is still in effect, or whether the work has passed into the public domain.
Start with #3. If the work has passed into the public domain, you are free to use any or all of it. Determining whether this is the case is a little tricky -- there's the question of the applicable copyright law (the last revision to copyright law was in 1976 - if the work was published before then, as in this case, different rules apply). See this page for a summary of how the law acts depending on publication date: https://guides.library.cornell.edu/copyright/publicdomain
As to #2, titles are generally not copyrightable. It is possible to protect a title via trademark, however.
Finally, concerning #1 and assuming that the work is still protected by copyright, you are asking whether your use would be "fair use". That is a thoroughly fact-based analysis, and something you would review with your attorney.
Hope this helps,
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