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Copyright for Writers—Understanding Copyright

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Copyright for Writers—Understanding Copyright

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

What is Copyright?

All writers need to understand the basics of copyright for two reasons:

      • So they know their rights in regard to the work they write and publish
      • So they do not infringe the rights of other creatives

So what is copyright?

In essence, copyright is the right to copy. (Sounds obvious, right?)

Copyright includes the right to reproduce, distribute, and display copyrighted works. It is a form of intellectual property, an asset that has monetary value. Copyright law is designed to protect the rights of those who create content.

What Does Copyright Cover?

Copyright covers original works, whether words, sounds, or images, and whether published or unpublished. This includes:

      • Books
      • Blog posts
      • Music
      • Lyrics
      • Movies
      • TV shows
      • Scripts
      • Plays
      • Speeches
      • Poems

Yes, copyright broad. Basically, copyright covers the creation of any original work, in any form.

There are a few things copyright doesn’t cover, such as:

      • Ideas
      • Book titles
      • Words

I’ll deal with these in a later post.

Who Owns the Copyright to a Published Book?

The author (well, they should). The author signs a contract with a publisher which licences specific rights. This licence gives the publisher the temporary right to reproduce, distribute, and display copyrighted works (i.e. to print and sell the book).

A good contract will specify what rights are included, e.g. the format of the book, the language, and the countries the book can be sold. It will also include how the author can get those rights back (e.g. so the author can self-publish the work). Never sign a contract that’s for life of copyright. That basically means the publisher owns the book, not you.

If you want to know more about the ins and outs of publishing contracts, I recommend Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog.

Copyright is Automatic

Copyright is automatic for work first published after 1 March 1989. Works do not have to have a © symbol or notice of copyright to be covered. The law is more complex for earlier work, so it’s best to assume a work is covered by copyright unless you have evidence to the contrary.

Copyright is International

All countries have laws relating to copyright. While there are minor differences (e.g. the length of copyright, whether you need to register copyright), the principles are the same, thanks to the Berne Convention.

There is a legal concept known as the long arm of the law. I thought this a cliché used in Western movies, but it apparently is a real thing. Author and lawyer Courtney Milan says:

you can be prosecuted by a state so long as you have “minimum contacts” with that state.

Milan was talking about online giveaways, not copyright law, but my unlegal interpretation* of long-arm jurisdiction is that anything you publish needs to abide by:

      • The copyright laws where you live.
      • The copyright laws where you publish.
      • The copyright laws where your readers live.

So a blog post (like this one) that attracts readers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US needs to comply with US copyright law. And Australian copyright law. And Canadian copyright law. And New Zealand copyright law. And … you get the picture.

Copyright is Universal

Fortunately, most of the principles are universal, thanks to the Berne Convention. Where things differ by country, my suggestion is to abide by the most conservative. So if a work under copyright in country A but not in country B, I suggest you treat the work as if it was still under copyright.

Here are two well-known examples:

      • The King James Bible
      • Peter Pan

The King James Bible

Most American Christians will tell you the King James Bible is out of copyright. However, it is still under copyright in the United Kingdom—copyright is held by the Crown i.e. HM Queen Elizabeth II. King James Bibles are published in the UK by the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.

So if it’s reasonable to assume your book might be purchased in the UK, it would be appropriate to include the appropriate copyright statement. (Not that I’ve ever heard of the Queen suing anyone for copyright infringement over the King James Bible. But it could happen.)

Note that it’s not the original text of the Bible which is subject to copyright, but the translation.

So all more modern versions of the Bible, including the New King James Version, are under copyright, because they are translations. Most modern translations allow authors to quote up to a specific number of verses without written permission as long as the follow specific guidelines. You can find up-to-date copyright and permission information by clicking on the relevant version at Bible Gateway.

Peter Pan

JM Barrie gifted the copyright to Peter Pan (the play and the later novelisation) to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in 1929. That copyright originally expired in 1987, but the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 includes a clause that specifically states GOSH has a right to royalty in perpetuity in the UK for stage productions, broadcasting, or publication.

But that doesn’t apply internationally. The novel is considered to be in the public domain in most countries, although the play version is still in copyright in the US until 2023 (so if Hollywood wish to produce a Peter Pan movie, the producers must licence the rights from GOSH).

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is a big deal. It’s against the law in the same way as stealing is against the law.

Plagiarism is quoting other people’s work without appropriate attribution.

Author Rachel Ann Nunes found her Christian romantic suspense novel, A Bid for Love, had been plagiarised by “Sam Taylor Mullens”. Mullens was later discovered to be Tiffanie Rushton, a teacher from Utah. She also indulged in identity theft, using the real names of her third-grade students to create fake accounts to review her own books. Yes, a real sweetie.

Rushton changed the point of view in A Big for Love from third person to first person, and added some sex scenes. Nunes started a GoFundMe page to fund her legal defence. It’s taken four years, but she’s finally been awarded the maximum statutory penalty, $150,000 (which doesn’t sound nearly enough for a case that’s taken four years).

Does This Mean I Can’t Use Copyrighted Material?

You can still use copyrighted material if you have written permission from the copyright holder (note that this may not be the original creator—Paul McCartney doesn’t own the rights to most of the 250+ songs he created with John Lennon).

You can also use copyrighted material without permission in certain specific circumstances, as outlined in the US doctrine of Fair Use.

I’ll be back next week to discuss Fair Use, and give some tips for using copyrighted material without getting into trouble.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. There is a lot of great information about copyright on the internet, but none of it is legal advice. To get legal advice, you pay a lawyer licensed to practice in your state or country. 

What questions do you have about copyright?

 

Front Matter

Self-Publishing Your Book: Writing Your Front Matter

You’ve finished your book. You’ve outlined, written, revised, edited, edited, edited and proofread 20,000 or 50,000 or 80,000 or more words. Now it’s ready to publish, but there is still more to be written.

You need your front matter and back matter.

A published book is made up of three parts:

  • Front Matter
  • Body
  • Back Matter (also called End Matter)

Today we’re going to look at the front matter: what’s included before Chapter One. This week we’re going to look at the three must-haves of front matter, and two might-haves:

  • Endorsements
  • Title Page
  • Credits Page
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents

Endorsements

Endorsements are short two to four line quotations aimed at encouraging the reader to buy the book. They may be from prestigious reviews (e.g. Publishers Weekly or Romantic Times), or from well-known authors in the genre. With trade-published books, these are often authors published by the same publisher. Some authors include comments from customer or fan reviews.

An endorsements page is optional. If included, it is usually the first one or two pages of the book, starting on the right-hand page.

Title Page

The title page is always a right-hand page in the front matter. It may be the first page in the book, or it may follow the endorsements.

Credits Page

The credits page or imprint page includes the legal information:

  • Title
  • Publisher name (address optional)
  • ISBN number/s
  • Copyright
  • Permissions
  • Other Credits
  • Disclaimer/s

The credits page is always a left-hand page. It may be opposite the title page, or opposite the dedication page.

ISBN Number/s

The ISBN Is the International Standard Book Number, which allows booksellers to order your book and know they have the correct edition. Different editions of the book will require a different ISBN e.g. paperback, hardcover, ebook. A reprint may use the same ISBN as the original edition, but a new or updated edition may require a new ISBN.

Books are not required to have an ISBN, but it is recommended if you wish to sell through online retailers. Note that Amazon has its own categorising system, the ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). ISBNs are free in some countries (e.g. Canada and New Zealand), but must be purchase in others (e.g. Australia or the United States of America).

Copyright

The copyright information will include:

  • The text copyright (the author/s)
  • Cover copyright (the cover designer)
  • Image copyright (the photographer or stock image site)

The cover designer may or may not retain copyright over their work. This will be covered in your contract, and they should also advise you of their preferred wording e.g. whether they need to be acknowledged as the copyright holder (Cover design © Designer X) or credited (Cover by Designer X).

There should also be a statement to the effect that all rights are reserved, and that the book may not be copied or reproduced in any form without written permission. Many books make a specific exception for short quotations in reviews (a use which is permitted under copyright law in most jurisdictions).

The actual wording of this section may depend on where you live or where the book is published.

Permissions

Authors cannot quote the copyrighted work of another creator without permission. The Credits Page will therefore include the necessary permissions e.g.

  • Bible quotations: most versions of the Bible can be quoted subject to certain restrictions (e.g. less than 500 verses, and not a complete book). Check Bible Gateway for further details.
  • Song lyrics: song titles are not subject to copyright in most jurisdictions, but song lyrics are. Lyrics should not be reproduced without permission. The copyright holder will be able to provide their preferred/required wording.

Other Credits

The author or publisher may wish to credit the cover designer, editor, or typesetter/formatter.

Literary agents may be mentioned as well.

Disclaimer/s

A novel may include a statement that the characters and events depicted in the novel are fictional (assuming they are—some novels are based on real-life events), and any resemblance to actual people living or dead, or to events is coincidental and unintentional.

A historical novel that includes a mixture of real-life people and imaginative characters may include a statement to that effect.

Dedication

The dedication is usually a short one or two-line statement from the author. This is always on the right-hand page. It is often opposite the Credits page.

Table of Contents

Non-fiction books will have a table of contents as part of the front matter. This will usually include chapter numbers and chapter names. It may be broken down into parts, or chapters may have subheadings. The format of the table of contents will depend on what makes sense given the structure of the book.

Novels may or may not need a table of contents, and most don’t. However, Amazon requires Kindle books to have a Table of Contents in the front matter, even if it is as basic as Chapter One, Chapter Two (and most are that basic).

The table of contents starts on the right-hand page, and comes after the title page, credits page, and dedication.

Other Front Matter

There are other elements which may be included in the front matter or the back matter. We’ll discuss those next week … as well as the differences between front matter in paper books compared to ebooks.

Meanwhile, do you have any questions about front matter or end matter?