Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

What If a Publisher Steals Your Book Idea? The Stupidest Advice I’ve Heard This Year…

November 13, 2013

A new author came to me recently saying she’d been advised not to pitch her brilliant book idea to Hay House “in case….” drum roll… “they STEAL your idea.”

Well that certainly made me choke and splutter on my fruit smoothie first thing in the morning. The thought of publishing icon, Louise Hay, STEALING someone else’s idea. Crikey, did I hear that correctly? I asked the author to repeat what she’d just told me. And yes, she was certain this was the advice that she’d been given.

I’d like to dispel a big MYTH here about publishers nicking book ideas off unsuspecting authors.

Publishers are inundated with book ideas. Some of them are receiving over 1,000 manuscripts per DAY. Do they really need to pinch your book idea when they can barely cope with what they’re being sent already?

Just supposing that an editor did this in a moment of madness, would they get away with it? In this Internet age, when blogging and social media are prevalent, how on earth would they keep this secret? Wouldn’t we all know about it via viral media? They might get away with it once. But twice, a dozen times, a hundred times? How would the publishing house stay in business when authors stopped sending them their manuscripts?

I’ve been working in publishing for over 20 years now. I’ve yet to witness anything that convinces me that this actually happens. What I do see though – and regularly – is opportunists taking advantage of authors’ anxiety that this might happen. Because guess what? It just so happens that the ‘experts’ who share such nuggets of wisdom have their own publishing presses which can… wait for it… publish your book at a price. Gee, thanks!

Cowboy publishing experts aside… if you’re really worried about your idea being copied, you can ask the other party to sign a ‘Non Disclaimer Agreement’ (NDA) or simply trademark your book title. Be warned though that NDAs are off-putting to most publishers and literary agents, unless for example, you have good reason to hide your identity like Belle de Jour. It is also difficult to completely trademark a title, as it’s still relatively easy to mimic a brand. Take for example, my event, The Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors which was recently ‘copied’ by one of the speakers who attended it under the title of The Millionaire Summit for Authors. But imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

Many authors are understandably anxious that their book idea might be used by someone else. You may worry if: another writer has the same book title; if they launch a book with a similar plot or topic; or, if they have a writing style like yours. When you discover a book with the same idea, you may worry that “someone else got there first” or “there’s no point in me writing my book now”.

But here’s the good news. No one else is ever going to write with your unique voice, your passion, your dedication, your amazing experience. Another book may have the same title or plot. But it’s impossible to replicate YOU.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – and sometimes it’s a great advantage to ‘piggy-back’ off someone else’s fantastic book idea. You only need to consider ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Westside Story’, or ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, to realise this.

Some literature experts argue that there’s only a limited number of archetypal plots in all books, whether fiction or non-fiction. The generally accepted point of view is that there is only ‘one’ basic plot. Ie. There is a problem – the problem is explored – the problem is resolved. This problem is usually dealt with in a sequence that typically follows the pattern of: Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement. This pattern can be repeated once or many times throughout a book.

With over 2 million books already published worldwide this year, it’s unlikely anyone will come up with a totally fresh and original idea. But your wisdom, your enthusiasm, your vision, will always be as unique as your fingerprint.

And no one can EVER steal that from you.

Can “I Use 50 Shades Of…” in My Book Title?

June 25, 2013

Here’s a question I am frequently asked:

“If I decided to write a book inspired by ’50 Shades of Grey’, and called it ’50 Shades of X’ – the only similiarity being a similiar sounding title – is that possible without a big law suit, or would it be better to write ’69 shades of Y’?”

The answer to this applies to all ‘spin-off’ books you may wish to allude to.

First of all check if the phrase is trademarked. If it is, then the answer is clearly: “No, you can’t”.

If it isn’t then, yes, you can go ahead.

Perhaps more important though is the next step. Check to see how many OTHER people have also thought of your idea.

A quick bit of market research reveals:

50 Shades of Nylon
50 Shades of Dash Diet
50 Shades of Green
50 Shades of Gravy
50 Shades of Classical
50 Shades of Red Riding Hood
etc etc etc

These titles cover everything from books to DVDs to MP3s. The topics range from Irish songs, to dieting, to social media marketing, to cookery. So there is very little scope here to establish your own special brand or unique selling point.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ‘piggy back’ off another author’s great idea – especially if you can put your own unique spin on the subject. In fact, imitation of an already successful brand is in many ways an incredibly smart move. Someone else has already tested the market before you and proved a formula to be successful. There is a clear readership and a clear target market – a publisher’s dream. So in many ways, it makes sense to mimic what other successful authors have done before you.

If you’re the very first person past the post, or you have something new or original to add, then I take my hat off to you and so will everyone else. Such a step may also prove incredibly lucrative.

However, when too many others have trodden the path before you and the market is already overcrowded, then you are veering into the territory of cliche – the world of outworn words and phrases which lose their impact. In this case, it may be time to rethink.

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Can I Quote Someone Else’s Work In My Book Without Permission?

May 17, 2013

Authors often ask me whether they can use other people’s copyrighted work within their own books – and whether they need to ask permission to include it.

I’d like to give some clarity on ‘permission’ and copyright in this blog. ‘Permission’ means seeking permission to use someone else’s copyrighted work in your own. In other words, you contact the copyright owner of the writing and ask permission to use the work. If the work is self-published, the copyright owner is the author. If the work is published by a publishing house, newspaper or magazine, then they will own the copyright rather than the writer.

Most publishers have a ‘permissions department’ you can approach. They also have formal paperwork for you to sign that will detail the territories in which you have permission to use the copyrighted work. This will contain clauses detailing the conditions and any exceptions to the permission.

Sometimes, this permission is given for free as you are promoting and publicising the other work. Often though, a fee is charged, which can range anywhere from a few dollars upwards to thousands of dollars.

When Permission Is NOT Needed:

  • Work in the public domain. It can sometimes be hard to determine whether a work is in the public domain. But as a rule of thumb, any work published before 1923 is considered to be in the public domain. There are also some works published after 1923 that are also in the public domain. (More information below).
  • When mentioning the title or author. If you are just mentioning the title of a work, you do not need permission. This is just like stating a fact.
  • ‘Fair Use’ guidelines. If you only want to quote a few lines from a book, you are probably within fair use guidelines. You therefore won’t need permission. See below for more information).
  • Creative Commons. If a work is licensed under Creative Commons, no permission is required. This is usually prominently stated on the work itself, as an alternative to the copyright symbol. Many books, sites and blogs are licensed under Creative Commons.

It is important to remember that crediting the source of a work does NOT take away your obligation to seek permission. In fact, it is expected you should acknowledge your source regardless of fair use.

Fair Use in a Nutshell
There are four criteria for Fair Use. These criteria are a little vague and therefore open to interpretation. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to make a final decision over what constitutes ‘fair use’ when there is a disagreement.

The four criteria are:

  • The purpose and character of the use. Is the purpose of your work educational or for charity; or is it a commercial venture? If the main purpose of your work is to make money, this makes your case less sympathetic if you’re borrowing a lot of someone else’s copyrighted work.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work. Creative or imaginative works get the strongest protection. It is impossible to copyright a fact.
  • The amount of the portion used compared to the entire quoted work. There is no percentage or word count suggested as a guideline by the courts. This is because some portions of a work my be considered to be the most valuable part/s.
  • The effect on the potential market for or value of the quoted work. If using the original work damages the chances of people buying the original work, then you are violating fair use.

Copyright on websites, blogs, etc

The same rules technically apply to copyrighted work online, but attitudes tend to be more relaxed. When bloggers use excerpts of copyrighted work (both from offline and online sources), it’s more likely to be considered as “sharing” or “publicity” rather than as a violation of copyright. So you are bending the rules, but owners of the copyrighted work are less likely to pursue legal action.

Song Titles, TV Titles and Movie Titles
You do not need permission to include any kind of title in your work. It is ok to use: song titles, TV show titles, and movie titles without permission. You don’t need permission to include the names of people, events, and places in your work.

Song Lyrics and Poems

Because songs and poetry can be so short, it is best not to even include one line without asking for permission. This applies even if you think this could be considered Fair Use. It is ok to use the titles of songs or poems, and the names of bands or artists.