Understand the Basics of U.S. Copyright Law

Basics of US Copyright Law

The nuances of publishing law can be overwhelming for both new and experienced authors. However, a review of the basics is necessary for self-publishing authors to minimize your legal risk. You should seek advice of a trained publishing attorney if you have further questions or if you anticipate any possible issues with your manuscript.

Under U.S. Copyright you, as author and creator, own the exclusive rights to your work. Any reproductions or varying versions of a work, in whole or part, require the authorization of the U.S. Copyright owner. U.S. Copyright protection automatically exists if a work is a tangible, original expression, even if it is not published or officially registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

U.S. Copyright is owned by the author of a literary work — a literary work of any type from a book to a letter. Although, ideas, titles, short phrases, slogans, names, typography and United States government publications are not protected under U.S. Copyright. Should the infringement of your copyright occur, with the necessary documents, you can have the infringed version removed.

You may register your book or unpublished manuscript with the U. S. Copyright Office in order to establish a public record, but it is not required. U.S. Copyright registration provides a number of advantages should you ever experience infringement on your work and U.S. Copyright. You are only able to pursue legal action on infringement if you have a registered U.S. Copyright. In addition, if you register your U.S. Copyright within three months of first publication, you have the right to receive special statutory damages and possibly your attorney's fees if you are successful in your litigation.

The effective date for your U.S. Copyright registration is the day on which your application, copies of the work and the fees have all been received by the U.S. Copyright Office. The duration of your protected U.S. Copyright, for works created on or after January 1, 1978 is the life of the author plus seventy years.

The borrowing of material under U.S. Copyright must have permission from the copyright owner. Receiving written permission provides you the most legal protection and WestBow requires that all permissions be received in writing with the signature of the U.S. Copyright owner.

There is not a legally established limit for the “fair use,” the borrowing of information without having to obtain permission, within your work. As a general rule, you may quote or closely paraphrase (a) up to 250 words from a book, (b) 10 percent of the text from an article, letter or diary, or (c) not more than two lines form song lyrics or poetry. Keep in mind that if you were to include the “heart” of a U.S. Copyrighted piece, regardless of the amount included, it can be considered infringement.

In addition to written work, photographs are covered under U.S. Copyright protection. Without permission from the original photographer or U.S. Copyright holder, only pictures that you have personally taken can be used within your manuscript. This includes images from the Internet in which most are under U.S. Copyright protection. Remember, if it is not a picture you took, you will probably need to ask permission for its use. And whenever you are in doubt, consult a legal professional.

When it comes to U.S. Copyright, each original piece of work is automatically protected and the use of another’s work without permission or properly quoting and citing your source is unlawful.

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