Some Reasons Why Authors Need to be Copyright-Savvy

As a copyright clearance professional and trainer in copyright basics for creatives in the publishing sector, the arts, the public speaking arena, and the music industry, I often see the consequences in the new self-publishing and independent-publishing paradigm of a lack of knowledge about even the basics of copyright. The Internet, for example, offers a wealth of content, some of it serving as a resource and some as material that we can directly incorporate to enhance our own work. In today’s global marketplace, it is important to know how to locate and use copyrighted content while keeping the risks of infringement to a minimum.

Authors who are unaware of the consequences of plagiarism and infringement may find themselves facing some unpleasant decisions regarding their work.  If they are accused of either activity, they may have to defend their reputation and struggle to diminish the damage such an accusation can make on their career. If they have to defend themselves in court, they may face costly attorney fees. If they lose, they may have to remove all their books from the sales mechanism they have chosen and discard them. They may have to pay damages of as much as $30,000 per work infringed and, if the infringement is found to be willful, they could have to pay damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed.

Three common misconceptions about using copyrighted content follow:

Misconception 1: A small amount of copying is always OK.

This is not true.  There is no law that states a specific amount of words or lines are a fair use. Even a line or two of lyrics or a line or two of poetry can be an infringement, for example.

Misconception 2: Giving credit for a quote excuses its use without permission.

This is not true. Giving credit for a copyrighted work only makes its use free of plagiarism. The use of a copyrighted work accompanied by a credit, but lacking a permission, may still be determined an infringement.

Misconception 3: It is always OK to publish a photograph if the physical copy is in possession of the user/publisher.

This is not true.  The possessor of a physical copy of an artwork or photograph is not necessarily the owner of its copyright.  Another consideration with the use of a photograph is the use of the images within the photograph. For example, there can be problems related to copyright ownership with publishing even a family photo if permission hasn’t been obtained from family members included in it and from the photographer who took the photograph.


Joyce Miller is co-founder and co-owner of Integrated Writer Services, LLC. She does manuscript assessments, copyright clearance, and advising on instances of plagiarism, infringement, misquoting, and improper citing. For more information about Joyce and the services she provides, go to or contact her directly at

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