Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Important Warning for Self-Publishers and Indie Authors

I was lurking around the Kindle Authors forum on Amazon, and I came across a posting by an author who didn't understand intellectual property rights. She had found out too late (after she'd published) that she was using material she thought was fair use and public domain, and she was now open to possible lawsuits. She was scrambling to fix the problem.

If you design your own cover (or if you use your friend or cousin) be SURE you understand the ins and outs of copyright law. Free clip art (such as those that come with Microsoft or Adobe products) is often restricted to non-commercial use only. Sometimes the licensing is not clear on the package.

You can't just go grab anything from Google Images (most of those images are under copyright). Even if you use Wikimedia Commons - or other free use sites - many of those images have restrictions on their use. In some cases, the copyright holder may only want credit. In others they may restrict to non-commercial use. Others want to be contacted before permission is given. Read the fine print. If you don't understand it, move along, or contact the artist.

And whatever you do, don't use song lyrics in your work. "Fair use" with songs and poems is VERY restrictive, and the music industry is very strict on enforcement. Paraphrase. Describe. Don't quote. (I'm told that you can use up to seven words, but I am not a lawyer, so I cannot give this advice as fact.)

The advantage of traditional publishing is that you have professionals who won't make such mistakes themselves, and they may help you catch any stupid mistakes you make, from a legal standpoint. When you self-publish, you are on your own, and you need to pay attention to those factors.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Here's one-- Don't use Disney, Disneyland, Disneyworld, Mickey Mouse or any of the other Disney icons. Not the images, simply the word. Such as in the family went to Disneyland. Big no no. Disney will sue you so fast your head will spin.

The Daring Novelist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Daring Novelist said...

Hay, your post wouldn't "approve" and I was suspecting skullduggery by the House of the Rat, but then your post appears.

BTW, legally, you can mention institutions in such a way, but Disney has bigger lawyers than you, and so it's just not worth it. I would be interested in knowing the cases involved, though. Mentioning is not illegal, but _depicting_ is shakier ground, and can get you into the area of "libel" and they will stretch a point. This is true of more than Disney. Do not put real places in your work.

Mari Miniatt said...

Even if you use Creative Commons, like with some of the images on Flicker, READ the license. Some will not allow it to be used for commercial work.
And some just want credit. When in doubt when using one of these works. Email the artist. Most will work with you.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Good reminders, Camille! No writer makes enough to fight against a lawsuit.