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.

If You Self-Publish Your Memoir, Read This

Many self-publishing authors have questions about self-publishing a memoir and avoiding a libel suit. Libelous statements are published statements that are false and damaging. However, even if what you write is true, someone can still accuse you of libel. Here is what you need to know to protect yourself.

  • If you make negative statements about another person or entity that have not been proven in a court of law, you need written permission.
  • If you are unable to obtain written permission, take steps to protect yourself:
  • Change all names of people and places.
  • Use a pen name.
  • Do not include an author photo.
  • Do not include an author bio.
  • Consider listing the book under the “Fiction-Biography” genre rather than non-fiction.

I know these steps can sometimes be hard for memoir writers because they are so emotionally involved in their stories and they want the world to know their story. However, publishing a book without permissions can lead to legal, and possibly physical, danger. People such as abusers do not like the world knowing the truth, and they may retaliate against authors who share their stories.

Many publishers will reject the story for publication if the above  precautions are not taken.  Some authors think their “freedom of speech” allows them to say whatever they want.  Unfortunately, this is not the case!  If what they are saying infringes on someone else’s rights, they cannot publish without the other person’s permission.

However, it is possible to share your story by using the above precautions. There are plenty of people who use pen names and have very successful books. Don’t let fear of a libel suit prevent you from sharing your story, but do take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

You can learn about libel, by reading this previous post: Questions Self Publishing Authors Ask: Non-Fiction Book Considered Libelous.

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.

Self-Publishing FAQ: Four Questions Answered

Throughout the month of July I discussed topics that often come up for self-publishing authors.  Without an experienced agent, many self-publishing authors find that it’s tough to get the answers to their questions about rights and permissions.  The July series was designed to help answer some of the questions you may have and to direct you to other sites where you can get more information on each topic.  If you missed the series, here is an overview of the topics I discussed and links to more information.

Parts of My Book are True, Can It Still Be Fiction?

Many authors aren’t sure whether to label their work as fiction or non-fiction, a novel or memoir. It is important that writers understand the differences between the two in order to avoid legal issues. The main message is this: if it’s not 100% true, it’s not non-fiction and readers need to be aware that at least parts of the book are fictitious.

Can My Non-Fiction Book be Considered Libelous?

Libelous statements are published statements that are false and damaging. They can be made against people or products. For someone to have a case against you, the statement must be three things: untrue, damaging, and knowingly false. Public officials and public figures must also prove malice.

Can I Use Images From the Internet in My Book?

Many self-publishing authors aren’t sure whether or not they can use internet images in their books. The same copyright laws apply to images found on the internet as any other images. Most of them are protected by copyrights and require permission to use.

Can I Use Song Lyrics in My Book?

The Fair Use rule does not apply to song lyrics. You need permission unless you are only using a song title or if the lyrics are in the public domain. You will also need permission to play recorded music in your book trailer.

For more information on these topics, you can click on the title to visit the original post, which includes links to additional resources. Also, if you have questions about self-publishing, comment below and I will try address them in future posts.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Questions Self Publishing Authors Ask: Parts of My Book are True, Can It Still Be Fiction?

Throughout the month of July I will be discussing topics that often come up for self publishing authors.  Without an experienced agent, you may have found that it’s tough to find the answers to your questions about rights and permissions.  These posts are designed to help answer some of the questions you may have and will direct you to other sites where you can get more information on each topic.  Come back each Wednesday this month for more informational posts to help you in your self publishing journey.  If you have additional questions, please send us a comment and we’ll add it to our list of topics to cover in the coming weeks.

This week I will address the question: Can my book be fiction if parts of it are true? Sometimes authors aren’t sure which genre their book belongs in. Some writers loosely base their books on their life but add details to make the plot or characters more interesting. Other writers write about their personal life experiences and only change character names. Here is what you need to know when deciding whether your book should be fiction or nonfiction.

  • Changing the names in a memoir does not necessarily protect you from a lawsuit if the characters are recognizable as real people.
  • If you are labeling your book as a memoir but names have been changed, be sure to disclose this.
  • If the book is not as truthful as possible, it is not a memoir. It is a novel. This means if you’ve added details such as extra characters or another plot line, it is fiction.
  • If you write a book that is inspired by your life events and you want readers to know these events really happened, label the book as fiction and note in your author’s biography that the book is inspired by real events.
  • If you are writing a biography, it is essential to verify all facts for accuracy. If you aren’t certain the story is truthful, let the person be your inspiration for a novel.

To learn more about whether to label your book as fiction or nonfiction, check out these two great posts:

The Line Between Fact and Fiction

Fiction Or Nonfiction? Memoir Or Novel? Know What To Call Your Story Or Book

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Questions Self Publishing Authors Ask: Non-Fiction Book Considered Libelous

Throughout the month of July I will be discussing topics that often come up for self publishing authors.  Without an experienced agent, you may have found that it’s tough to find the answers to your questions about rights and permissions.  These posts are designed to help answer some of the questions you may have and will direct you to other sites where you can get more information on each topic.  Come back each Wednesday this month for more informational posts to help you in your self publishing journey.  If you have additional questions, please send us a comment and we’ll add it to our list of topics to cover in the coming weeks.

This week I will address the question: Could my non-fiction book be considered libelous?  Many self publishing authors aren’t sure what libel is and how to avoid legal trouble. Here are some helpful things for you to know.

  • Libel can be against people or products.
  • Libelous statements are published statements that are false and damaging.
  • For someone to have a case against you, the statement must be three things: untrue, damaging, and knowingly false.
  • Plaintiffs must have evidence to prove that the libel statement caused them harm.
  • Public officials and public figures must also prove malice.
  • An excellent source on the topic of libel is the “Briefing on Media Law” portion of The Associated Press Stylebook.
  • When writing non-fiction, only write the truth. Otherwise, write fiction.
  • Keep records of your research in case you ever need to prove that a statement is true.

To learn more about libel, check out this great post: http://www.writing-world.com/rights/libel.shtml.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

FAQ About Copyrights

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 questions I am most commonly asked.

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.

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.

 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.  Wikipedia is a non-profit site and therefore, can provide information without permission, but as an author using this information in your book, the original source must be contacted to obtain proper authorization to publish it for profit.

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.

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. 

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. 

Seriously consider if you are self-publishing a book that reveals information that could damage someone, and consult with an attorney or copyright research firm.  If you are publishing a true story, I recommend that you change names and use a pen name when publishing. 

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

 

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING:
Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.