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Let’s take a look at a topic that scares the jeepers out of most authors: how to copyright a book. A lot of us get caught up in a confusing haze of copyright laws, infringement, and wondering how to stay out of hot water with the law and angry lawyers [okay, maybe it’s not that dramatic]. But it is best to know what you can and cannot do regarding copyrighting when self-publishing your own book.
It’s Not Only About How to Copyright a Book…
With the explosion of self-publishing, indie authors must be aware of what they can and can’t do when it comes to quoting, borrowing, and publishing works from other authors. This post isn’t to “scare” you but give some insight into how you can protect yourself and your own work from being misused or stolen.
In this post we will also look at the 9 most common questions authors ask when it comes to copyright concerns, for both their own works and when borrowing from other sources.
But first, it all begins with creating the copyright page in your book.
Your Copyright Page
Open any old book that may be sitting by your desk right now. What do you notice within the first few pages? Whether the book is self-published or through a traditional publisher, there’s a copyright page inside and within the first few pages of every book. Typically, the copyright page will appear in your book right after the title page and just before the table of contents.
The copyright page should include some essential information in order to copyright your book. The main components to include in your book’s copyright page are:
- The copyright notice. This has the little © symbol or you can use the word “copyright.” So it would look like this: ©2017 Jane Doe
- The year of publication of the book
- The name of the owner of the works, which is usually the author or publishing house name.
- Ordering information
- Reservation of rights
- Copyright notice
- Book editions
- ISBN Number
- Your website [you want them to find you, right?]
- Credits to the book [cover designer, editor]
Take a look at this example from Chandler Bolt’s book Published. The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author.
A Note on Disclaimers
If you are writing a book on health and fitness, success as an entrepreneur, providing financial advice—anything that readers could fail at—an extended disclaimer is something you should consider.
If you give advice on earning a million dollars this year, and the reader ends up losing money, you could be blamed for their misfortune because of a promise you made. Consider putting an extended disclaimer in your book that comes after the copyright jargon to protect your opinions, advice and information. In other words, tell readers that they are reading your book and applying your advice at their own risk.
Here are some examples of disclaimers.
The characters in this book are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The advice and strategies found within may not be suitable for every situation. This work is sold with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher are held responsible for the results accrued from the advice in this book.
The 9 Most Common Questions
Nowadays, with the massive expansion of self-publishing, it is more important than ever for authors, artists and creatives putting their work out there to ensure that it is fully protected.
When we borrow work from other authors, living or dead, we have to consider: 1. What can I actually use; and 2. When is permission needed? Here is the golden rule when it comes to copyright laws: Never assume that anything is free! Everything out there, including on the internet, has been created by someone.
Here are common questions authors have about protecting themselves, their works, and others they may have quoted in their books:
1. Do I have to register my book before it is copyrighted?
Your book is legally copyrighted as soon as it is written. But, to scale up your legal rights and protect your material to the fullest extent, register your book with the Federal Copyright Office. On the chance someone does attempt to pirate your book or portions of it, registering with the US Copyright Office will give you greater leverage if it comes to action being taken.
2. How many words can I quote from another book or source?
Generally speaking there are no set rules on how much you can actually “borrow” from existing works. But, it’s best to exercise common sense here and keep it short, as a general rule under 300 words.
Paul Rapp, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, says that “if the quote drives your narrative, if you are using an author’s quote in your argument, or if you are giving an opinion on an author’s quote, then it is considered fair use.”
What is fair use?
A legal concept that allows the reproduction of copyrighted material for certain purposes without obtaining permission and without paying a fee or royalty. Purposes permitting the application of fair use generally include review, news reporting, teaching, or scholarly research.
If you use something published by someone else with the sole purpose of monetary gain, this doesn’t constitute fair use.
3. Can I write about real people?
Especially in works of nonfiction, real people are often mentioned to express an opinion or as an example to clarify the writer’s fact or opinion. Generally you can use the names of real people as long as the material isn’t damaging to their reputation or libelous. Stick to the facts and write about what is true based on your research.
4. Can I borrow lyrics from songs?
Stephen King often used song lyrics for his books including Christine and The Stand. He obtained permission for these works. King says, “Lyrics quotes in this book [Christine] are assigned to the singer most commonly associated with them. This may offend the purist who feels that a song lyric belongs more to the writer than the singer.”
Basically, song lyrics fall under strict copyright even if it is just a single line used. Try to get permission if you use a song. You can contact the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Once you find the rights owner, you have to ask for permission through writing.
5. Do I need permission to borrow material from a book that is over 100 years old?
Once the copyright on a book or material has expired, or the author has been dead for seventy years, the work enters into the public domain and you can use it without permission or licensing. BUT this does vary country to country. You can check the copyright office in the US here.
6. Are authors liable for content used in a book?
Yup. Even with traditional publishing houses, the author is still responsible for the content written and used in the book. In fact, traditionally published authors usually have to sign a waiver that removes the publisher from any liability pertaining to the material the author used if the writer included that material without proper permission. And you already know, as a self-published author, you’re on your own.
7. If I use an inspirational quote from another writer or famous person, do I need permission?
You don’t need permission to use quotes in a book provided that you credit the person who created it and/or spoke the quote.
“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream” –Edgar Allan Poe
8. What is the best way to protect my work from being stolen?
Your work is copyrighted as soon as it is written. But you can register your work with the US copyright office. If you have a blog where you also post content, you need to have a Terms & Privacy disclaimer on your page. This would preferably be at the top where it is easy to see, although many writers and bloggers include this at the bottom of every page. You should also include your Copyright on your blog that protects your content from being “copied and pasted” into another site without permission or recognition.
9. A royalty free stock photo means that I can use it for free and don’t have to get permission, right?
Wrong. Most stock photos are copyrighted, even if they appear in search engines and we can easily download or copy them. If you grab a photo off the net and think you can slap it on a book cover or use it for free in your book, think again. It’s recommended you purchase photos through sites such as Shutterstock or Depositphotos.
Boring, Yet Cool Legal Terms You Should Know
I know, I know…we would rather write books, rake in the cash, and sign autographs than worry about technical legal jargon. But the more you know, the more time you can spend writing without wondering, “Is this legal?” Here are some legal terms to keep you informed on your rights as a self-publisher and protect your works:
- Copyright infringement
- Intellectual property rights
- Public domain work
- First Amendment
- Indemnification clause
- Fair use
- Libelous writing
Before you publish your next book, take a few minutes to read over this “brief” report from the United States Copyright Office. You can also check out this handy guideline for authors on what needs permission vs. what you can use without asking.