Plagiarism may cost you your academic and/or professional career, but copyright infringement may cost you your home, your future earnings and subsequently your marriage. I know this a little melodramatic, especially coming from me, but I’m saying this to make a point. I’m not a lawyer, so I am not allowed to give legal advice, but I am a professional writer interested in helping other writers and authors stay out of trouble with the little bit of information I have.
If you plan on publishing information that includes, quotes or even references what someone else wrote, said, recorded, created or took a picture of, keep reading to learn how to avoid possible copyright infringement.
Who is responsible for securing copyright permission?
Traditional publishing companies are very diligent about securing copyright permission before publishing a work that may include work that is copyrighted by someone other than the author. So if you are working with a traditional publishing company, chances are that they have a team-or at least a person-who will help you find out how to secure permissions. In some cases, they may even have someone on staff to do it for you.
If you are a self-publisher, it is you are solely responsible for determining when copyright permission is needed and then getting the job done. Even if you are paying a self-publishing company to edit, format, print and distribute the book for you, you are still responsible for securing copyright permission. There is most likely a line about that buried somewhere in your Terms and Conditions or some other contract with the company.
How do you secure copyright permission?
In most cases, you can secure permissions by finding the publisher of the copyrighted work and sending them a request to include, quote or reference a significant portion of their work. It may be best to call the publisher directly and ask them what their procedure is for providing permission to use, quote or reference their work. If they do not have a specific form or process, you can use the sample permission letter in this link for inspiration.
What do you do if you do not get a response?
The best thing to do is to not use the work. If it is a key piece of information that helps support a point you are making in your non-fiction book, then you can attempt to summarize it in your own words and ask your editor for assistance in de-plagiarizing your language. But in most cases, it is best just to leave the work alone. (By the way, I completely made up the word “de-plagiarizing,” but as long as you understand the point I can live with it.)
Where to get more information
The U.S. Copyright Office has a FAQ page that answers additional questions that more clearly define fair use. If something is considered fair use, you do not have secure copyright permission. But to develop a better understanding of what fair use is, I recommend browsing their FAQ page by clicking here.
Question: What other legal questions do you need the answer to?
Image by: Sam Howzit (Flickr: Giant Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons