In the UK, EU and USA, copyright lasts for 70 years after an author's death. Every year, many more books get brought into the public domain.
If you want to read any great wordsmith who died before 1945, you can download their best works from these 10 websites and enjoy them on Kindles, tablets and laptops, any time you like. As a bonus, some of them offer audiobooks too.
Major publishers tend to print classics with an analysis from a prominent scholar, but in fact, that intro is the only part of such books that's copyright protected. In such cases, no money is due to the authors' surviving relatives (if any are even known).
So if you can do without being told what to think about a book, you've got a severe wealth of options. I'm talking: Shakespeare, Dickens, Dante, Balzac, Wordsworth, F Scott Fitzgerald, Plato, Virginia Wolfe, Sigmund Freud, Sun Tzu, Grey's Anatomy and shedloads more.
More literature than you could ever read in a lifetime. All legal and above board. For free. You're very welcome.
1. Gutenburg Project
There are fifty thousand free ebooks ready to roll for Kindle and iPad reading, courtesy of the Gutenburg Project. Get inspiration from their daily top 100 chart – a few examples being: Pride and Prejudice, Beowulf, Alice in Wonderland, the Count of Monte Cristo and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But there's everything you can think of and more, check it out. Instant download with or without images, in Kindle or ePUB. Mind-blowing resource.
2. Loyal Books (formerly Books should be free)
Loyal Books is one of the prettier websites in the field, offering a vast catalogue of Kindle or ePUB books – and also audiobooks, downloadable as MP3 or iTunes Podcasts. Everything from Aesop's Fables to Jules Verne, all ready to sex up your commute in a flash.
3. Digital Book Index
The Digital Book Index gives you access to 144,000 free ebooks (alongside a few you have to pay for) – in terms of literature, there's about 12,000 to choose from, running from William Shakespeare to the Harlem Renaissance. Gorgeous resource for lit-heads!
At Upenn.edu you'll find over two million free ebooks (two million!!!!) curated by the University of Pennsylvania Library, and downloadable from various other US universities in PDF form. You can read them online in ebook format, so great for lazing around the house with a brew and an iPad.
5. Read Easily
Read Easily is an ace resource with hundreds of titles that you can customise ebooks, in terms of colour scheme and text size, then download. It's mostly intended for the visually impaired, so if you have a friend or relative who's eyes aren't what they once were, please help them out with this top, top resource. Otherwise, it's a great little selection for anyone who loves lit.
Check out thousands of online classics of reference, literature and non-fiction at Bartleby, with a mission to "provides students, researchers and the intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge." There are thousands to read online, but only selected works can be downloaded, as PDF.
7. Great Books and Classics
Great Books and Classics isn't the best of these sites but, notable for being organised in 10 year periods, so if you are looking to delve into a particular era for inspiration, this could be the place to do it.
8. Classic Literature
Not a vast collection of fiction compared to the others, but Classic Literature has over 70,000 recipes in its classic cookbooks section. Fun for foodies!
Comparatively short, but thoroughly excellent selection at Planet Publish. A lovely, clean easy-to-navigate blog site with samples and downloadable PDFs. The easiest of all these sites to get a taster of the author's style before you download. Might be a good idea to explore on here, then Kindle up on one of the other sites.
Librivox is a brilliant peer-to-peer audiobook site where public domain books are read by the people, for the people. I'm currently listening to a woman with a cut-glass British accent reading from Sherlock Holmes…lovely relaxing stuff. Download an audiobook or read one out, the choice is yours.