Can PublishingRoom offer any advice on how to avoid legal trouble
Yes, please download the following PDF file of our easy guide about how to protect yourself against legal trouble by learning
to identify legal issues in your own work.
Is my manuscript copyright protected when I self-publish
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 or registration
or any other official act is required to secure copyright.
What is the difference between copyright protected and copyright
Copyright protection is secured upon creation and provides you the right to stop
another person from using your work without permission.
Copyright registration, which you can purchase through our Services Store,
is secured when material is officially registered with the U.S. government. This
allows you to sue to recover a monetary value if someone uses your work illegally.
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How can I tell if something is copyright protected if I
want to use it in my book?
In most cases, any picture, material, text, information, quote, map, song or illustration
that you personally did not create is copyright protected by the person 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 another
individual. Most information found on the Internet is copyright protected as well.
Can I use a quote in my book without getting permission?
It depends. 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.
The following four factors are used to determine fair use: 1) The purpose and character
of the use, including potential gains for commercial or nonprofit 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.
There is no defined rule regarding the number of lines or words that can be used
without permission. Also, simply citing the source is not an alternate for obtaining
permission to use the material. In general, if you are quoting a work, only using
a few lines within a long book, you will probably be protected under fair use. However,
if you are concerned at all, and to be on the safe side, always consult with a qualified
professional before using copyrighted material in your book unless you have permission
You can also use a work that is considered "in the public domain," which
means that a work's copyright has expired or lacks proper notice. Works in the public
domain are not copyright protected and are free to use without permission. However,
determining if a work is truly in the public domain can be a tricky task due to
new versions of older works, protection in countries other than the U.S., and protection
under alternative laws.
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How much can I rely on another work without permission?
There are no clear rules as to the amount of material you can use without permission.
If in doubt, you should consult a legal advisor or look into copyright law to provide
more details. In general, keep the rule of "fair use" (see previous FAQ)
in mind and consider how much and what part of the work you are borrowing. The more
material you use, the less likely it is to be considered fair use. However, sometimes
even a small amount of work proportionally can hold a lot of weight if it is an
important part of the work, so the amount of text is not always the determining
Which pictures can I use without permission?
Without permission from the original photographer or copyright holder, only pictures
that you have personally taken can be used without permission (unless a photo is
"in the public domain" because the copyright has expired). If a picture
is found in a book, newspaper or magazine, you cannot use the image without getting
permission. Pictures and information found on the Internet are not "public
domain." Most material found on the Internet is copyright protected. Additionally,
photographers retain the rights to photographs they take, even if the picture is
of you or a family member. You need to obtain permission from the photographer even
if you purchased a print of the photograph. When in doubt, get permission or consult
a legal professional.
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Does citing the source of material clear me of copyright
No. A citation will not protect you in a court of law against a copyright case.
You must obtain permission.
How do I obtain permission and what do I do with it?
In order to obtain permission, you can contact the copyright holder and explain
what work you wish to use and for what purpose. Request written permission from
them to use the material in publication. Some copyright holders will provide permission
for free and others will charge a fee. If you cannot get a reply after several attempts,
you may be able to use the material without permission, but make sure to keep all
documented instances of failed attempts and consult a legal professional to be sure.
Keep the written permission in your possession if for any reason you should need
to prove permission in the future. The copyright holder may or may not require additional
credit in the book itself.
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What is considered libel?
Libel has a variety of definitions from in the United States depending on each state's
laws, but in general it is a written false defamation, or the publication of any
statement that could cause damage to an individual or organization's character or
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How can I protect myself against libel in DIY publishing?
Although truth is in most cases a defense in a libel case, it is often difficult
and lengthy (thus expensive) to prove in court. If your DIY published book tells
a true story about events that occurred, the first step to protect yourself is by
changing the names of people or organizations in the book. However, simply changing
a name from "Jim" to "David" is often not enough. If a person
or others can recognize themselves from the situation, places or events even if
their name is changed, you can still be sued for libel. Changing the location also
helps to distance the story so that it is unrecognizable to real people. You can
use a pen name to further distance any recognizable trail back to you or, most importantly,
the real person, in order to avoid trouble.
For instance, imagine an individual reader knows you, the author in real life. If
you make claims about your husband's doctor, even if you change your husband's name
and the doctor's name, but you keep your real name, it is pretty clear to someone
involved who you are talking about in reality. By using a pen name and
changing the name of people in the book, this will help to further remove the specifics
and protect you against any libel claims.
Voicing an opinion is not libelous; however, be careful that you are not actually
making an accusatory statement. Even if you say "in my opinion" before
a statement, that does not automatically make the statement an opinion if you are
speculating or asserting something about someone.
Do not make the following statements or claims, 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 as the carrier of an infectious
or loathsome disease; falsely charging someone or an organization with a claim that
discredits or disqualifies a business, office or trade and lowers their profitability;
and falsely accusing someone as being impotent.
Seriously consider if you are self-publishing a book that makes statements or reveals
information that could damage someone and consult a legal advisor if you are concerned.
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What is the difference between a private and public figure
There are differences between public and private figures in libel cases. A private
figure is an individual who is not in the public eye. A public figure is someone
in the public eye who has actively sought to influence the resolution of a matter
of public interest. There are varying degrees of public figures, which can also
play a role.
If you make a claim about a private figure in your book and the individual wanted
to charge you with libel, they would only have to prove "negligence,"
or that a "reasonable" person would not have published the statements.
If you are discussing a public figure, or a person in the public's interest, they
must prove negligence and "malice," or intent to harm or knowledge the
statements were false, which is slightly more difficult to prove.
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