5 Top Legal Issues for Authors and Self-Publishers

by | Mar 8, 2013

by Sara Hawkins

I met Sara on Google+, where I seem to be spending more and more time lately. When I realized that she was both an attorney and someone who understands the world of bloggers, online publishers, and authors, I asked her to write an article that would highlight legal issues authors face, and how those issues affect self-publishers. Here’s her response.


As an author, you probably don’t often consider many legal issues about writing your book. Sure, there’s the contract with the publisher, designer, or copyeditor. Traditionally, for most authors there just weren’t many legalities to consider. That was until traditional book authorship and publishing met the internet and created their lovechild called self-publishing.

We all know the publishing industry has changed. One of the biggest changes is that unless you’re an A-list author you’re responsible for much more in the writing, editing, promoting, as well as publishing process than in the past.

Fewer people shepherding a book in the traditional publishing industry means authors no longer have legions of experts to comb through their manuscript. One thing that can be counted on is that the publisher will have their legal department check your book out before it’s printed.

Not that authors are sued all the time, but when you take the route of self-publishing you also take on the liability that comes with the various legal issues. Most authors, though, aren’t lawyers. You’re experts in your own field or creative-types who spend countless hours developing characters and settings to create an authentic experience for the reader. Navigating the legal hurdles of publishing is now something authors must be concerned with.

Authors are likely aware of the basics of copyright when it comes to their book—they write the book, they own the copyright. But there are a few other key legal concerns that can greatly impact authors and self-publishers throughout the entire process, from conceiving the idea to all the subsequent updates, from pre-marketing to post-publication marketing. And while many authors may not initially see themselves as self-publishers, the changing landscape of the publishing world may eventually lead you down that road. Even if you do go the route of traditional publishing, you will likely still need to have a digital presence, which comes with a host of legal issues that you’ll want to know.

5 Top Legal Issues for Authors and Self-Publishers

1. Copyright of images and graphics

Basic copyright law says that if you create it then you own it. Yes, there are exceptions and nuances, but for the most part you can do whatever you wish with your own creations. However, as an author you may want to add graphics and images to enhance your story or your discussion and it’s easy to turn to the internet to find something you think would work perfectly.

Unfortunately there isn’t a clear-cut statement of whether an author can or can not use an image or graphic found online through a basic browser search. In typical lawyer form I say “maybe”. But that doesn’t help you much. No one wants to publish a book thinking they might get sued.

Today there are many resources where authors can find public domain images and graphics, but as with all things internet it’s up to the user to ensure that the work is indeed in the public domain and freely usable. That may be difficult if your source is a search engine, so using reliable sites can offer some peace of mind.

In addition to public domain images, creative commons licenses are another way to source images and graphics. But, again, you need to know what each of the licenses means and choose images that permit commercial use. If you can’t get permission and there is no Creative Commons or public domain work suitable for your needs, your next avenue is to determine if you can use another’s work under the Fair Use doctrine.

Fair Use is an exception to copyright infringement and allows a third party to use a copyrighted work under very specific circumstances. Unfortunately, there is no checklist or strict reading of this law, creating challenges for many authors. Since you may not have the counsel of a publisher, you’ll need to read up on this concept and determine if your use would fit the guidelines. Commercial works may have a claim of Fair Use, however as with all Fair Use claims it is a case-by-case determination.

2. Copyright of text and music lyrics

The discussion for copyright of text and music lyrics is similar to that of images and graphics, but they are not exactly parallel. With a graphic or image, you’re likely using the entire work, whereas with text or music lyrics you’re only using a portion. It is much more clear that using an entire text or reproducing the full music lyrics would violate copyright, the question now becomes how much can be used so that you’re not.

Traditional publishers may have guidelines, but they’re also willing to defend them if challenged. For self-published authors, being sued for using “too much” of a work may not be a risk worth taking.

Of course, there is still the ability to ask for a license before using the work if you are concerned with the legalities of using copyrighted material. There is, also, Fair Use. However, as was mentioned with regard to images and graphics, it’s not a clearly defined exception.

Unlike the discussion above, though, with text or music lyrics you’re likely only using a portion of the work so there is a stronger argument with regard to the quantity of the work used. Nonetheless, Fair Use goes beyond just a “word count” and you must be able to establish that your use does not interfere with the owner’s rights.

3. Registration of your copyright

While Joel has addressed what has to be on the copyright page of your book, some of you may wonder if you have to actually take that next step and register your copyright. This is one of the areas where most lawyers will agree that the small fee is definitely worth paying. While it’s not required, because copyright of your book exists without registration, to pursue most legal action the work must be registered.

4. Use of brand names and trademarks

In a fiction work, your characters are three-dimensional and may live in the same world we inhabit, with all of the brands and trademarks we’re familiar with. It makes sense that your heroine wears Prada or your leading man is sporting a Purple Label tux, but what do the brands think?

There are several legal theories in trademark that come in to play, “trademark infringement”, “trademark dilution” and “trademark tarnishment”. The most significant concerns for authors are with “dilution” and “tarnishment”. Xerox has been mounting a fight for decades to prevent all photocopying from being referred to as “xeroxing”, as has Kimberly-Clark been concerned with all facial tissues being generically referred to as “Kleenex”.

More recently, Google has brought in their legal team to prevent their trademark from becoming an equivalent to the default word for searching the internet. Using a trademark, whether registered or not, to describe a product or service generically can draw attention to your work and create potential liability. Brand names should be reserved for describing that particular product or service offered by the company.

When it comes to using a brand name in a negative light, authors walk a very fine line. Brand “tarnishment” is akin to defamation, and disparaging use of a brand name is often easier to find as publishing moves to the ebook and audiobook formats. Unless there is a compelling artistic reason to disparage a brand, creating a fictional brand would be prudent. If, however, you feel your story would be compromised without using the actual brand name, seek counsel to evaluate the risks and determine how best to minimize them.

5. What if it’s your work that’s taken?

Without a big publisher behind you, policing your copyright adds to your post-publication duties. If you’ve taken the steps to register your work, enforcing your copyright through the court system is a little easier. Often the difficulty comes in identifying that your work has been copied, but with a well-established community it’s likely one of your readers or supporters will spot the infringement and bring it to your attention. Then what?

For many, the first step is to contact the author (and/or publisher) and tell them they’re violating your copyright. Depending on how much of your work has been taken; you may want to speak to an attorney to find out the best way to approach the author and/or publisher of the allegedly infringing work. If your work has not been registered yet, and the alleged infringement is significant, registering your work should be done immediately.

One of the benefits of online booksellers is you can avail yourself of the DMCA takedown process, which does not require that your work be registered, if you have a good faith belief your work is being infringed. The reporting process is often incorporated into larger bookseller websites, making it easy to report violation and have the allegedly offending book taken down.

Unfortunately, this DMCA takedown process must be repeated for every site promoting the sale or distribution of the allegedly infringing book. In addition, there is the confrontation factor when you have to notify the person whose work you allege is infringing.

In addition to the DMCA takedown process you may likely need to work with the traditional route of copyright infringement notification. Speaking with a Copyright enforcement attorney may be necessary, although you may be able to resolve the matter without escalating it and involving an attorney.

Regardless of whether the book is a physical or electronic publication, it is a multi-step process to getting the book taken down from sale sites, notifying a publisher, contacting the author, and submitting a takedown request to a hosting company if an author is hawking the book on their site.

Conclusion

Part of learning is making mistakes. Unfortunately, with self-publishing mistakes the consequences can be quite harsh. Few people set out to purposely infringe another’s work. But it happens. Authors are not often versed in the nuances of copyright law and may unwittingly find themselves on the wrong end of a copyright infringement conversation.

As authors look to extend their reach beyond a single book, a single act of copyright infringement can be a turn-off to a traditional publisher, movie agent, movie studio, or speaker’s bureau. A self-published author’s credibility is tied into more than just the words of their book.

Whereas an author who is working with a traditional publisher may have multiple checks along the way, self-publishing requires you to wear many more hats. No one is expecting you to become a lawyer along this path. However, understanding just a few legal topics means making more informed choices, avoiding potential liability, and being able to act quickly to protect your rights.

Disclosure: This article and any associated comments are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Photo: bigstockphoto.com

self-publishing lawSara Hawkins is the creator of a Blog Law series, which aims to help bloggers, entrepreneurs, and online professionals gain legal confidence. Sara is a licensed attorney providing counsel to entrepreneurs and online professionals. She can be found on Twitter at @Saving4Someday.

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169 Comments

  1. PETER BROWN

    My poetry book was published in Australia for Book Ventures USA over two yrs. ago and I can’t identify the publisher here. My sales report on BVs. website shows early sales and royalties of $18 I know all of the persons who ordered these few books. I have not recieved one cent nor has there been any reponse to several efforts to get an explanation as to whether in that long period of time other sales have been made. In the light of my experience I advise any author to avoid this so called publisher. Having said that the book was well done and I was happy with the printed result.Beyond that I have been seriously disillusioned and I am aprehensive about publishing a nearly finished story I have written.

  2. Sharon

    Marlene, you need to go back to all of the contracts you have regarding your book. Do you have a contract with a publisher (or are you the publisher)? Do you have a contract with a distributor? Do you have a contract agreement with any retailers (amazon, etc.)? Once you’ve reviewed all your agreements, then you can see what the details were regarding sales, royalties, payments, etc., and then you need to contact each of those applicable entities to ask your questions.

  3. Marlene

    I have 2 books published since 2010. In that time I have received only $1.02 cent. I told someone recently about the book and It seems several companies have sold my book and it is on Amazon and Ebay as well. I have not received any royalties. If I have the rights to my books, why am I not receiving any money, Is this legal??

  4. Idris Bowman

    https://bit.ly/2RcRVrl this book helped me with some legal issues I don’t wanna Adress course it’s not that good. The point is that you should get that book if your in trouble it probably will help you out

  5. J. Allen

    I have been asked to pre-order a book and I found out that he has not even written it yet. Is this ethical?

  6. Oriol

    Hello,

    Thanks for your post.

    I am going to write a book that is a compilation of true-fact stories from the news or even in other books (including fiction). Can I literally copy entire paragraphs? (I would always reference them on my book)

    Many thanks and kind regards,

    Oriol

  7. Lori

    I am writing a book and was thinking of self publishing it. Would this be a safe bet or am I better off going through a big publisher?

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Lori, you ask a good question but it has a long answer. It depends on so many variables–how big your author platform is, how long you’ve been an expert in your field, what the book is about, and so much more. Regarding self-publishing, I would recommend that you read the articles in the Self-Publishing Basics and Self Publishing topics (on the right-hand side below). I have found many writers’ conferences (where they talk about how to get an agent and a publisher interested) offer good information and connections, too.

  8. janice routon

    Thanks for reading this. I want to publish an ebook about fiction writing techniques used in modern literature. I’m wondering if I use modern authors’ example of that specific technique, would I have to seek permission from them or would it put me in a liable position if they did not agree with my point of view of their technique? I need to know because I might just stick with deceased authors if I risk some kind of unexpected law suit. jr

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Hi, Janice,

      It would be safer to stick with deceased authors ( prior to 1923 so their works would be in the public domain) or you can try to get permission from the authors (if they wrote after that date) or you can check with an intellectual property attorney.

  9. Rob

    Hello

    I am planning to publish several books, each of which will summarise in around 30 pages a well-known recent, non-fiction book (each typically 500+ pages). The summaries will be written in my own words (with I’m sure a few phrases the same as in the originals), and will be acknowledged as unofficial, unauthorised summaries of the originals.

    Any thoughts on the likely IP consequences of this, and if necessary where I could get appropriate advice, would be very much appreciated.

    Thanks

    Rob

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Rob, to be safe I recommend you consult an intellectual property attorney in your area.

  10. Karis

    Is it possible to un-publish/recall a book that’s in the public domain? For instance, a book that might hurt someone you didn’t intend to, or that’s an embarrassment now, or full of incorrect information, etc.–basically, a book you wish you hadn’t written?

  11. Anonymous Male

    HELLO!

    If I were to get my work published would I able to RE-publish that work?
    Like if I send it to multiple journals and get accepted by more than one would I be able to publish at all journals? What if i wanted to add one of the works to book?

    In a nutshell, is it one and done when it comes to publishing?

    THANKS A WHOLE GODDAMN BUNCH!

    • Sharon Goldinger

      It depends upon the rights and rules set by the publication. You need to read their terms and conditions and any agreement they ask you to sign as to who retains the copyright and their rules regarding republication.

  12. M RANGRAJ IYENGAR

    I hv come across a situation wherein a social cause international portal published an audio version of a story from my frinds book, which is NOT exclusively registered for copyright. I wrote to publisher / administrator of portal who cooly agreed to honor copyright if we have and asked a legible copy of the document. Now will sending them e book as a proof with our publisher’s details therein will help us to get that removed from site.? Kindly suggest. The case is from India.

    • Joel Friedlander

      It would be better for you to find someone who knows about copyright in India, because all the information on this site relates only to U.S. copyright law. Good luck!

  13. Michelle

    If I’m talking about an acne product I had a bad experience with and my negative experiences are listed as potential side effects on the medication, would it be okay to use its actual brand name or should I still change it?

    • Idris Bowman

      https://bit.ly/2RcRVrl in this book I found a answer for that kind of problem you should look into that

  14. J'Marie Moore

    Hi, I have a uestion. If an author writes a book about someone famous, do they have a right to re release the book?

  15. Joyce

    Good morning:

    I have written a book and want to use pictures on the cover that relate to the content. The pics include people, places and things. Most of the pics I took myself and others are pics sent to me upon request from relatives or friends.

    All of the people pictured have given me verbal permission due to volunteering. So, how do I protect myself from a lawsuit in the use of these images?

    Also, with buildings and statues, do I need the permission of the city? With things like designer shoes (of which the names are not visible in the pic, but they do belong to a relative), pic of a gun, a policeman’s hat or cuffs, a basketball or court, etc. what permissions would I need if any?

    I am very excited about it, but do not want any problems down the road. Can you please help!

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Joyce, you’re asking very good questions. I’m not a lawyer and I can’t give you legal advice. If this were my project, I would consult with an intellectual property attorney.

  16. Fuzz

    Just a query. Would it be illegal to photocopy more than 10% of an academic text if the private educational institution I work for owns the Intellectual Property? We had it published by Pearson but the entire thing was edited and written by the institution I work for. I am a bit confused by this. Let me know! Thanks.

  17. Nance

    Hi, I searched through the comments and haven’t found anything that matches quite like my ask…. I am working on writing a book around life experiences (personal and professional) to help younger generations… My question is… if you make up fictional names (company and individual) is that enough to protect you from sharing the story? My concern is sharing a story that will most likely be recognized by people i know so am curious if although truthful IF there would be any potential claim of disparagement.

    • Sharon Goldinger

      Hi, Nance, great question. I’m actually working on a book right now that involves these same issues. Best answer I can give you: make an appointment with an intellectual property attorney and review all the people (names, situations, etc.) with him or her and get legal advice as to how best to proceed. That’s what the authors and I did and we’re now clear what we need to do with the book.

  18. Jon Nelson

    Hi Sara, Joel, or another expert,

    This is another Kindle question, though I think it applies to other publishers:

    1) According to the Amazon agreement (copied below), any graphics I make and then use in a self-published Kindle book (via their software) becomes their property.

    2) So, what happens if I want to reuse the same graphic (which I made) for another use, including for another book? Do I have to get written permission from Amazon (even though I am the person who made said graphic)?

    3) If yes to #2), then how about if I take my graphic, say a diagram, and just shift a few parts without essentially changing the essence of the graphic. Can I freely use that?

    Thanks a lot-

    Kindly,

    Jon

    Here is what the Amazon agreement says (from their Kindle software agreement page):

    COPYRIGHT
    All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, data compilations, and software is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws. The compilation of all content included in or made available through any Amazon Service is the exclusive property of Amazon and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws.

  19. M. Zabir

    Hi, can anyone help me, as I’m publishing a book and I’ve taken around few sentences from other people’s books. For example, a few sentences from gandhi from hos book, a few sentences from Lamartine from hos book and few sentences from other popular peoples books. Is this legal?

  20. Thomas Barden

    I have used sources in a book I am publishing, but I have a few concerns about not being able to get their permission for their use….
    1. they were published in 1932, 1954, 1964, thus possibly may still be copyrighted.
    2. I have tried to contact the publishers and have not received anything back, or the publishing companies no longer exist.
    3. Another book was published in 1998, the author has died, the publishing company is out of business and there is no way to contact anyone in connection with the source

    Can I still use these sources???
    I am thinking of forming an LLC to protect myself anyway.

    • M. Zabir

      I’ve done the same with my book but can’t get answers if this is legal?

  21. Michael Phillips

    I want to submit an idea for a book to an author but I know that means writing a letter to the mentioned author. I’m actually writing the letter already but I’m afraid of sending the letter to the author because I don’t want to author to feel insulted or offended by it. The author is named Elisabetta Dami, she writes the Geronimo Stilton books. If I am to send this letter, what should I put in the letter that will sound appropriate for the letter that I send to? I would hear that some people said that authors usually can’t submit ideas for a book someone has in mind due to something to do with a copyright rule or something which I don’t know what else they said because I don’t remember. But the point is that I want to send a letter to the mentioned author for an idea in her book series but I don’t know what I should put in the letter to make sure it sounds appropriate. Can anyone help?

    • Sara F Hawkins

      Sending an unsolicited idea to a creative person (author, writer, screenwriter, director, producer, company, etc.) can have unintended implications for both parties. Some organizations (movie studios, publishers, literary agencies) do not accept unsolicited materials and clearly explain their policy on their website or if someone calls in for an address it will be explained.

      For authors, it can be a little more difficult, especially if they are not represented by an agent or counsel and the unsolicited material is sent directly to them.

      The potential legal liability that can come with unsolicited materials is the foundation for these policies not to accept this type of material. Besides the potential intellectual property claims, there could be contractual or quasi-contractual concerns raised. And while ideas are not protected by copyright, that won’t necessarily convince someone to accept or read unsolicited materials.

      If you know there is a policy in place, I’d suggest not sending your idea. Perhaps just a fan letter if you enjoy her work.

      If there is no specific policy, your letter should clearly set out any waiver of rights you’re willing to offer. This should be done up front, so as not to cause the author to discard your letter.

      The challenge is that even if the author had the same or similar idea, once they read yours it becomes difficult for them to separate the two or to prove the order in which the idea was formulated.

      There is no specific language that is used. Some organizations that accept unsolicited materials require that the envelope be labeled as such so they can direct that mail to someone other than the author or their team. If you’re not sure of her policy, or the policy of her agent, it may be best to make the designation on the outside so they can manage the materials in accordance with their policy.

      I hope this helps.

      Best,
      Sara

      Legal Information Only. Not Offered As Legal Advice.

      • Michael Phillips

        Well, for one, this author in mind lives nowhere near me so I can’t speak with her upfront like going to your next neighbor to talk. I don’t know if she has policies or what but same would go with the production company that makes the cartoon show of her works. And I don’t know where I should go to for the website to send a fan letter. So far, the idea in mind isn’t similiar but it’s just a suggestion or so. How do I make sure the author doesn’t discard my letter though, I don’t know how to make sure the author doesn’t do that. How do I label the letter as such like you said though and how do I make the designation on the outside so they can manage the materials in accordance with their policy? I’m sorry, I’m new at this. I’m also slightly learning disabled.

      • Zabir

        Hi, Sarah, I’m writing a book and I want to know if I can copy a few hundred words off another book? Is this legal?

  22. Danny

    I am having serious issues with IUNIVERE – any one had problems with the quality of their editing? HELP – they are driving me insane

  23. Rose Bigham

    Are there any issues with mentioning business names in my book? eg. hotels?

  24. Ronald Kennedy

    I have an issue with America Star Books. I paid them $79.00 to release me from their contract (which I paid).They, in return, said this: “You own the unformatted text only, and you can do as you choose with that alone. America Star Books continues to own the ISBN number, the cover design, and the layout design of the text.
    Any use of any of these items would be a serious and very clear case of infringement. Therefore, you can use the same design only if we transfer the rights to you, or to your new publishing company.”

    (My images are on their cover design. And the ‘layout design of the text’ is my design, which was presented on my manuscript when i submitted it.)

    America Star Books wants me to pay for the cover design would cost $500, and/or the text layout would cost $250.

    Again, ABS says at the end of their email; “you own the unformatted text only, and you can do as you choose with that alone.”

    But I own the copyrights to my text and images, which are on file at the Library of Congress and have been since 1990 (maybe even longer). My main questions; is this legal? They they claim rights to something I already own? Who can I contact for more help?

    Even giving them Exclusive rights was only granted during the term of the contract, which they have released me from. (my calls and emails to them go unanswered)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ronald, without reading the contract myself, I would say this likely is legal and that you have three choices: (1) start fresh with another designer or company (be sure to read the contract carefully before signing anything); (2) pay America Star books the money they are asking for; (3) engage an intellectual property attorney for assistance.

  25. Myran

    I found some information that is public domain but it was compiled by Brown University. I was thinking about using some of the information in a book I am working on, citing the original source of course. Do I have to contact Brown University to get their permission to use it although the information does not technically belong to them?

  26. Julia

    Hello, I’m an ESL teacher and I have made a list of interesting phrases and dialogues from popular sitcoms and series to help my students learn some everyday English. Now I have an idea to make a Kindle book and use this list in it. Would it be legal to make a book using some of the content of films, sitcoms or series?

  27. Kris Grotheer

    Hi,
    I’m a U.S. citizen and have written a lengthy story based on a British tv show. I met the star of the show and his wife, who is the producer, last summer when I was over in England to watch them film.
    I had been given the star’s email address and I contacted him this summer about publishing the books as a book series, with all of the authors profits to be donated to a charity which he and his wife support. The actor owns the production company which makes the show and owns the show. He and his producer wife have the final say in all things related to the program.
    He told me that “for dreary legal reasons, he can’t be involved but that he would certainly not stand in my way if I wished to undertake this on my own. And that “I will even help you channel any profits if you should require such assistance”. I feel completely comfortable with doing this. My question is … can I use the show’s logo on the cover of the books without the publishing company questioning it?

    • John Williamson

      Play it safe. Either get written permission to use the logo, or don’t use it.

  28. joanna corina

    Hi I am so new at this I wrote a fiction book it is almost finished which is so exciting! Anyway I have a friend in the beginning she did help me with some ideas but at the same time I have edited everything and rewrote scenes can I just register under my name and just place her as co author? one person said yes i can do whatever i want..

    • Joel Friedlander

      Joanna, if you wrote the book, you own the copyright. After the book is published register it with the Copyright office under your own name. If you want to thank your friend, when the book comes out give her a gift as a token of your appreciation, along with a copy of the book. Some authors will also acknowledge help like this in the Acknowledgments section of the book itself.

  29. Arnab

    Hi Sara
    I’m going to self publish a self-help book on kindle. If I use some information from various websites (like Wikipedia) in my book & crate a book cover with the google images (I’ll edit that image like on Microsoft PowerPoint & give name of the book on the top & add some further information)…is it legal or not ??
    Please help me as soon as possible.
    Thank you

    • Joel Friedlander

      Arnab, the material on Wikipedia can be freely copied, but the material on other websites usually cannot be copied without permission from the copyright owner. Same with images you find on Google, they are owned by someone. Using words or images that belong to someone else is copyright infringement, in the U.S. this is a federal offense punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both.

    • John, Proofreader and Reviewer

      In addition to Joel’s answer, I wanted to add that there are people who are very critical if a book appears to be entirely copied from public domain sources like Wikipedia. Some of those critical people have gotten Amazon to ban certain books because they merely copied information from online sources, even if it was public domain, because there was no credit given.

      Your safest best is to do what English teachers taught us for years, and that is to give credit for everything that is not in your own words.

  30. Simone

    I have a question. I recently published a book self published and I have two names. One is a “pet/nickname” that my family and call me and the other is my government name written on every ID I have. My publisher wrote our contract in my “pet/nickname” and the book written by also says my pet / nickname. I asked them about this but they say my government name doesn’t need to be on it and that it’s only needed for cheques /payments. Is this right? Everyone is saying the contract should be in my government name should incase problems arise down the line. What should I do? Am I protected?

  31. JohnK

    I’m not even sure how to phrase this as a question.

    Years ago, I wrote a program that creates image. The images are obviously created by my program because they use an alphabet that I designed that uses 7-tall, 9-tall and 15-tall letters made of squares, and sometimes used equilateral triangles to fill in jagged edges.

    These images appeared on my website of old. They were mazes that contained messages like “SARA IS AMAZING” (see website link). Since a person could put the same words in again and create a brand new image (blocks arranged to spell the same letters, but all the lines that made the maze moved around to create a new answer), I certainly could not afford to register every image, nor did I try to have the web site save copies of every image created, because in those days, bandwidth was at a premium. But each image, when created, had a copyright notice on the web page that created it.

    I took some of those images that I created to CafePress, where I searched for a new keyword that nobody was using that I could use as a search term to identify my products. Nobody was using “word1word2” (two words pushed together as one new word), so I registered the websites http://www.word1word2.com and http://www.word1word2s.com then created items for sale, referencing “word1word2” as a search term.

    While the domain was under my (now deceased) sister’s control, she let one of my web domains expire (not one of the mashup domains) and let the web hosting lapse. Meanwhile, before our site expired, enterprising charlatans noticed that I had created those search terms, went to my web site, created new images with my program, then listed them for sale on CafePress, using my invented search term.

    I read somewhere that you can only sue people if each copyright was registered, but this was impossible in this case. I’d sure enjoy any advice that you can offer. I know that I can request the products be removed without a copyright involved, but I believe that those users should be required to share their profits with me since they made money selling products with images that were created by the program that I created, using fonts of my design.

    John
    owner of several puzzle-word-including-domain-names
    including one TLD made of one common word
    and two TLDs made of two common words pushed together
    all three of which I used as search terms at CafePress

  32. sunben3gyy@gmail.com

    Dear Sara,

    A quick question: I am in the process of completing a book by my mother who had passed away. I inherited the manuscript from my father who passed shortly after.

    I have roughly 50% to add and have begun this project. I am currently thinking self-publishing, as it maybe faster. Now who has the ownership of this book, me, or my siblings, though none of them wants this project but has questioned the ownership.

    Thank you so much for you help!

    Rick

  33. Jerry Morris

    Hi Sara.
    My name is Jerry.
    I have a Question and don’t know where to turn.
    I have written a book. It’s a autobiography.
    It has been on the US market since December 2015. But only recently I noticed my publisher had made some changes in my text without asking my permission or notifying me. When I confronted my publisher with this fact he said the following

    Dear Jerry Morris:

    Your original text left you, and by extension us, wide open to potential lawsuits under US defamation law. So we edited limited portions to fix this. Not only do we have every right but also an obligation to do this. We will remove the line America Star Books has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.

    You have two options to choose from. Either you accept this reality, or you don’t. In the latter case we will take the book off the market.

    I don’t like how they changed my text and they refuse to give me more elaborate explanation.

    A note. I’m dark skinned and was born on the Island of Aruba.

    The first part below is the my text.

    The second part is the way my author published my book.

    My original version:

    She was furious. She had had enough and was determined to make sure this would be the last time.

    She lit the fire on the stove and walked to my brother. She took his arm and dragged him to the kitchen and tried to put his hand in the stove’s fire. When my brother realized what she was trying to do, he started fighting her like crazy, blowing out the fire, freeing himself, and trying to hide. She would light the stove again, find him, and drag him through the house to the kitchen. From the living room to the kitchen, he would try to hold on to everything he could: a chair, a table, the carpet, the door handle—the house was a mess. He screamed and fought like he was fighting for his life. And I just looked on and followed it all from a distance. Every time my mother would get him to the stove, he would manage to get the fire out before it could burn his hand. At one point, we thought she had finally given up. She stood in the living room looking around her. She then stared at the gas heather we had in the living room. She turned the heater on high enough it turned orange. I felt so scared. And everything started again as she went for my brother and dragged him to the heater. Again, he fought like crazy while she tried to push his hand against the glass of the heater. My brother was only nine, so he had no chance. When his hand did finally touch the hot glass,

    he screamed loudly. She finally let him go. I was so scared. She then looked at me because it was my turn. After that day, we never stole from our mother again.

    The way my publisher version:

    She was furious. She had had enough and was determined to make sure this would be the last time.
    She moved toward my brother to punish him in a way that he would not forget the lesson. With each attempt; however, Renaldo escaped her punishment. At one point, we thought she had finally given up. She stood in the living room looking around her, but everything started again as she went for my brother and dragged him behind her. Again, he fought like crazy while she tried to enact her punishment. My brother was only nine, so he had no chance.

    He screamed loudly. She finally let him go. I was so scared. She then looked at me because it was my turn. After that day, we never stole from our mother again.

    I know it’s graphic and maybe even shocking. But it’s my story and my book.
    I don’t understand why my text could get me or my publisher in trouble.

    My publisher won’t explain. Can You?

    • gman

      This is my opinion but maybe a lot of people will get offended when they read that or there are laws regarding burning someone alive. You being swarthy is irrelevant on it.

      I’m curious if mine will also have that kind of comment on my work since I have a scene like that only milder.

    • gman

      As a follow up to my reply above, I think I’ve read A children called it when there was a scene similar to yours. Correct me if I’m wrong, though.

      • Jerry Morris

        I talked to a legal adviser.
        He told me the problem with that particular peace is that my publisher is worried that my mother might try to file a lawsuit against me and in extension my publisher. So now that I understand the problem I can do something about it.
        Thanks for your remarks.
        Concerning a book called ‘A children called it’ I haven’t heard of it. Or I might be misunderstanding you.
        This is something that happened to me and me brother a long time ago.

        • gman

          I see. Thanks for responding. If I remember correctly, ‘A Child Called It’ used fictitious names to protect the privacy of the people related to the book. The author worked in child protection services or could be a therapist and used one of the experiences of a child/client as a subject matter on the book. I mentioned it because everything on that scene could lead to the author being sued by the mother.

          Since you you told your autobiography on your book, your mother can trace it back to you.

          On that note, my scene is safe. Thanks again for clarifying your issue.

          • gman

            everything on that scene
            I meant book.

        • gman

          You know what, I’ve just searched a child called it again. Sorry for the misinformation on my earlier post. The author wrote about himself not about others. Now I don’t know . . .

        • gman

          I’ve read the Wiki page of the author of the child called it for you. See the controversy section:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Pelzer

          I don’t know if that author got sued on it, but some articles are calling for authentication of such events. Obviously, the other relatives will be called witness, as to what happened to his grandmother.

          I haven’t read your book yet, but kudos to you!

          • Jerry Morris

            The name of my book is ‘To fail or to succeed is a choice!’

            That part of my story that I referred to earlier on this page is an example of my sometimes turbulent childhood.
            As an adult I’ve been somewhat successful. But not without enduring hardship in many occasions on many different levels in my life. What I want to emphasis with my story is that many people often have a hard start in life. Or are just living a hard life period. But that doesn’t exclude that person from all the opportunities life still has available to them. To believe or not to believe this is a choice. And to pursue or not to pursue your dreams ,no mater how far fetched, is also a choice. Hence the title of my book. ‘To fail or to succeed is a choice!’ So my book is not about my success but rather about my passion and journey to be successful despite my youth and many obstacles in life.

            So if one day you do read my book.
            Please be so kind to let me know what you think of it.

            My publisher asked me to sum up my book in three sentences.
            This is what I wrote down.

            “To fail or to succeed is a choice!” is a book about one’s potential, regardless of where you are at the start of your journey, or your financial situation at that point in time, or even how many opportunities are available to you then. What matters is how determined you are to get where you want to go. This is the only thing that really matters, because with determination comes focus, endurance, and resilience ̶ three key factors to overcome almost any obstacle standing in your way during your lifetime.

            Kind regards
            Jerry Morris

  34. Hannah

    Hi Sara

    I’m hoping to publish on Kindle this year. In my book I make references/mentions to Cal State, University of California (UCLA), a high school John Marshall and Southern California Inland Empire Chefs & Cooks Association . As well as Grey’s Anatomy and a café in Santa Monica called Novel Café.

    Am I allowed to publish with these places named and say I hold the necessary publishing rights or do I need to change names. Sorry to put some much in the comment but I wanted to cover my basis before publishing.

    Thank you
    Hannah

  35. Duncan

    Dear Sara Hawkins
    I live in London UK and I am writing a book that uses Scientific information. The Premise of the book stems on one idea and If I can’t use it the book falls flat on its face. I am guessing that the information is coded enough that it is not identifiable I should be OK however, I do fear that I will have to use specific words to make the fictional story plausible and that is where I am worried any thoughts

    yours Duncan

  36. Sanya

    Hi,

    My question is related to books. I see there are a few websites selling summaries for business books. I am an avid reader of business books. If I create a paid membership site where I share what I learnt from each book I read as a few pages summary of key ideas of each book and how it can be applied to one’s career, would it be copyright infringement?

    Regards,
    Sanya

  37. Ivana

    Hello Sara,
    I was hoping that you could help me with something that has been bothering me for a while now..
    I’m planning to self publish a book through Amazon (poetry book) and I was wondering about copyright on poetry..what if someone uses my poems as an inspiration (for a song, book, etc.), not necessarily the whole poem, but a line or a quote. Is that illegal? What are my options here?
    I’m really hoping that you’ll be able to reply soon I really need some professional insight to shed the light on these questions.
    Thank you so much
    -Ivana

    • Jocalyn Lawler

      Beware Amazon. Without any communication with me, Amazon released my book, Behind the Screens, as one of their titles, and at an exorbitant price. There was no communication with me, and now royalties were allocated to me. I attempted to contact them but no response was forthcoming.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Jocalyn, this sounds extremely unlikely to me. I suggest you contact an intellectual property attorney to determine if something untoward has actually occurred here or if there is simply a misunderstanding.

  38. eric davis

    I would like to publish an ebook book about cigar box guitars. I would also like to include pictures of those cigar box guitars. My question concerns the manufacturer’s graphics on the cigar boxes. Would there be a copyright issue if I used photos that showed the cigar box guitars and the printed graphics on those cigar boxes?

    Thanks

  39. Gou

    Hi Sara
    Hi Sara

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    I have a question. Do i need to seek info from the author if I refer a problem from his text book in a class. For example: if I am teaching geometry in a class, can I tell my students to solve a problem mentioned in a text book by writing it on a white board.

    Or otherwise can I discuss that problem in a class, of course mentioning where I got it from.

    Regards

    • JohnK

      I’m speaking as a former teacher here, not as a lawyer, but I feel 100% confident of my answer.

      Since everyone in your class knows that you are teaching from that particular book, you do not need to mention it when you put it on the board.

      BUT if you were filming yourself solving that problem and intended to publish it on your blog, you would need to make sure that the blog, or you verbally in the video, identified the source of the problem.

  40. Ralph G.

    Hi,

    I’m curious, what if a book is mentioned in a movie, but it’s a mistaken title of a real-life book. For example, say a movie character mixes up the name of a book when he requests it at a bookstore. The mix up is a play on words kind of like a mistaken song lyric that is heard wrong or something. In the film, the bookstore clerk figures out what the person is really looking for and sends him the right way. The title is not like the real book in that the person in the film thought the person’s name was the title. And he got the person’s name wrong based on how it sounded. An example would be, “Rude Off The Red Nose Rain, Dear.” Something like that. Anyway, if it was mentioned in a movie that way (mistakenly when someone was seeking it at a bookstore in the movie), could I write a book by that title?

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