Balboa Press - FAQ Copyright & Libel

Copyright & Libel FAQ

Is my manuscript U.S. Copyright protected when I self-publish with Balboa Press?
If U.S. Copyright is automatic, then why do people register for a U.S. copyright?
What is the difference between U.S. Copyright protected and U.S. Copyright registered?
How can I tell if something is U.S. Copyright protected if I want to use it in my book?
Can I use a quote in my book without getting permission?
How much can I rely on another work without permission?
Which pictures can I use without permission?
Does citing the source of material clear me of U.S. Copyright infringement?
How do I obtain permission and what do I do with it?
What is considered libel?
How can I protect myself against libel in publishing?
What is the difference between a private and public figure in libel? 

Please note: Due to the nature and complexity of the legal system, Balboa Press does not claim to have intimate knowledge of the specific details regarding legal questions. For more detailed information about legal and U.S. Copyright concerns speak to a local barrister or visit www.copyright.gov for more information.  

Is my manuscript U.S. Copyright protected when I self-publish with Balboa Press?

Yes. The U.S. 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 a U.S. Copyright.

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If U.S. Copyright is automatic, then why do people register for U.S. Copyright?

U.S. Copyright protection attaches immediately and automatically as soon as you fix the work in question in a tangible form. That tangible form might be a printed manuscript, but computer discs (or even your computer hard drive) can also be considered tangible forms. Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office creates a public record of the basic information of your book.

Why go to the trouble of filing a federal U.S. Copyright registration? There are two fundamental answers:

a. ability to sue; and
b. statutory damages

Although U.S. Copyright attaches upon fixation, you cannot actually sue someone for infringing your U.S. Copyright until you have registered your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. "Timely Registration" is key. This means that you file with the U.S. Copyright office before any copyright infringement actually begins. "Timely Registration" makes it much easier to sue and recover money from an infringer. Specifically, it creates a legal presumption that your U.S. Copyright is valid, and allows you to recover up to $150,000 (and possible solicitor fees) without having to prove any actual monetary harm.

Balboa Press can help you register and protect your work to the fullest extent when you select one of our packages that includes U.S. Copyright registration or buy the service from our Service Store in addition to your package.

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What is the difference between U.S. Copyright protected and U.S. Copyright registered?

U.S. Copyright protection is secured upon creation of your work and provides you the right to stop another person from using your work without permission. U.S. Copyright registration is secured when material is officially registered with the U.S. government. Having your material officially registered with the U.S. Copyright office 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Copyright protected by the person who created and/or published the material. Any text or pictures found in a book, magazine or newspaper is U.S. Copyright protected by the publisher, artist, photographer or another individual. Most information found on the Internet is U.S. Copyright protected as well.

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Can I use a quote in my book without getting permission?

It depends. Under "Fair Use," some U.S. 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 defence. 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 or 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 U.S. Copyrighted material in your book unless you have permission in writing.

You can also use a work that is considered "in the public domain," which means that a work's U.S. Copyright has expired or lacks proper notice. Works in the public domain are not U.S. 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 U.S. 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 factor.

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Which pictures can I use without permission?

Without permission from the original photographer or U.S Copyright holder, only pictures that you have personally taken can be used without permission (unless a photo is "in the public domain" because the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Copyright infringement?

No. A citation will not protect you in a court of law in a U.S. Copyright case. You must obtain and keep written permission from the U.S. Copyright holder.

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How do I obtain permission and what do I do with it?

In order to obtain permission, you can contact the original U.S. Copyright holder and explain what work you wish to use and for what purpose. In order to not be held liable in a lawsuit you must request and obtain written permission from them to use the material in publication. Some U.S. 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 throughout 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 reputation.

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How can I protect myself against libel in 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 published book tells a true storey 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 recognise 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 storey so that it is unrecognisable to real people. You can use a pen name to further distance any recognisable 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.

Before you self-publish a book that makes statements or reveals information that could damage someone, seriously consider what you are about to do. If you are concerned consult a legal advisor.

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What is the difference between a private and public figure in libel?

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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