Top 6 Self-Publishing Copyright Questions

One of the most confusing topics for new authors is copyrights. I am constantly asked questions by new authors who want to avoid copyright infringements. Here are the top six copyright questions I am frequently asked by self-publishing authors.

1) Is my manuscript copyrighted when self-publishing?

Yes, the copyright for your material was secured as soon as you created it, or when it became fixed in a manuscript for the first time. No publication, registration or any other official act is required to secure copyright.

2) If copyright is automatic, why should I register for a copyright?

Filing with the U.S. Copyright Office creates a public record of the basic information of your book, which gives you the ability to sue for infringement and statutory damages. Doing this creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid and allows you to recoup up to thousands of dollars, and possibly attorney fees, without having to prove actual monetary harm.

3)  How do you know if something in your book is copyright protected?

 In most cases, any picture, material, text, information, quote, map, song, image or illustration that you personally did not create is copyright protected by the person(s) who created and/or published the material.  Any text or pictures found in a book, magazine or newspaper is copyright protected by the publisher, artist photographer or some other entity.  And yes, most information found on the internet is copyright protected.  For example, if you pull material from Wikipedia, it’s copyrighted by somebody. 

4) What is Fair Use?

Under “Fair Use,” some copyright protected material can be used without permission; however, there are no clear-cut rules, only guidelines and factors to be considered. Fair use is not a right, only a defense. If you are unsure, please consult a legal advisor or copyright researcher.

The following four factors are used to determine fair use: 1) The purpose and character of the use, including potential gains for commercial 2) The nature of the original copyrighted work 3) The proportion or percentage of the copyrighted material in relation to the work as a whole 4) The potential effect on the value of the copyrighted material.

5) Will citing the source of the material free you from copyright infringement?

 No!  Citing the source will not avoid possible court litigation.  Permission must be obtained. 

6) How can I avoid being accused of libel?

Stating an opinion is not libelous, though it’s best to be careful not to make an accusatory statement about anyone when using real names. Do not make the following statements, as they are clear grounds for a libel case: Falsely accusing someone of a crime, or having been charged, indicted or convicted of a crime; falsely identifying someone with an infectious disease; falsely charging someone or an organization with a claim that discredits a business or office and lowers their profitability; and falsely accusing someone as being impotent.  If you are publishing a true story, you may want to change names of characters and places as well as use a pen name. 

I would love to hear your other questions regarding copyrights, and perhaps, I can address them in future book posts.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps, publishing consultants and marketing professionals; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams and on assisting authors with marketing and promoting their book once published. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

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