Can Partridge Africa offer any advice on how to avoid legal trouble when publishing?

Yes, we can help you. Please click on the links below to read our easy guide on how to protect yourself against legal troubles by identifying issues in your own work.  
Is my manuscript copyright protected when I publish with Partridge Africa?

Yes, the copyright for your material was secured when you created it or when it became fixed in a manuscript for the first time. There is no need for publication, registration, or any other official action to secure copyright.

If copyright is automatic, then why do people register for copyright?

Copyright protection attaches immediately and automatically as soon as you have in tangible form the work in question. This tangible form may be any of the following:

  • Printed manuscript
  • Computer disks
  • Computer hard drive

Registering copyright with the US Copyright Office creates a public record of the basic information of a book. Why go to the lengths of filing a federal copyright registration?

There are two fundamental answers:

  • You get the ability to sue for copyright infringement.
  • You can demand for statutory damages.

Although copyright is automatic upon creation of a material in tangible form, you cannot sue someone for copyright infringement unless you have registered your work with the Copyright Office. Timely Registration, e.g., the registration of the work within three months of publication or before a copyright infringement occurs, is the key. Timely Registration makes suing and recovering money from the infringer a much easier process. It creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid and allows you to recover up to $150,000 (and possibly lawyer’s fees) without having to prove actual monetary harm.

Partridge Africa can help you register and protect your work to the fullest extent. Read more about Partridge Africa’s copyright registration service.

What is the difference between “copyright protected” and “copyright registered”?

Copyright protection is secured upon creation of work. It provides you the right to stop a person or entity from using your work without prior permission. Copyright registration, which you can acquire through our Services Store, is obtained when you officially register your material with the US government. This allows you to sue an infringer and recover statutory damages.

How can I tell if something is copyright protected if I want to use it in my book?

Any picture, material, text, information, quote, map, song, or illustration that you personally did not create is copyright protected by the person who created/published them. Texts and pictures found in books, magazines, or newspaper is duly owned by the publisher, photographer, artist, or another individual. Even materials found on the Internet are copyright protected.

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

It depends. Under the Fair Use Agreement, some copyright-protected material can be used without permission; however, there are no clear-cut rules regarding this, only guidelines and factors to be considered. Fair use is not a right, it is only a defence. Please consult a legal advisor if unsure.

The following are the factors used in determining fair use:

  • The purpose and nature of usage, e.g., is it non-profit or will it be for potential commercial gain?
  • The nature of the original copyrighted work
  • The proportion or percentage of the copyrighted material in relation to the work as a whole
  • The potential effect on the value of the copyrighted material.

There is no definite rule on the number of lines or words that can be used without permission. Also, simply citing your source does not clear you of copyright infringement and is not an alternative for obtaining permission to use the material. If you are quoting a work and using only a few lines from a long book, you will probably be protected under fair use. However, to be safe, consult with a qualified legal practitioner before using copyrighted materials unless you have written permission.

A word considered to be under public domain can also be used. A public domain material means its copyright has expired or there is lack of proper notice. Such materials are no longer copyright protected and are free to use without permission. However, it may be hard to determine whether a work is public domain or not due to the release of new versions, protection in countries other than the US, and protection under alternative laws.

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 prior permission. If in doubt, consult a legal advisor or read more about copyright laws for more details. Keep the rule of fair use (see previous FAQ) in mind, and consider how much and what parts of a copyrighted work you are borrowing. The more material you use, the less likely will it be considered as fair use. However, even a small amount of material can hold a lot of weight if it is an important element of the work, so the amount used is not always the determining factor.

Which pictures can I use without permission?

Only pictures that you have personally taken can be used without permission. For other pictures, permission for use from the original photographer or the copyright holder is needed (unless a photo is in the public domain due to copyright expiration). A picture you found in a book, newspaper, or magazine cannot be used without express permission from the publishers. Even pictures on the Internet cannot be used freely as they are not public domain and are likely to be copyright protected. Moreover, photographers retain the copyright to the pictures they have taken, even if the picture is of you or a family member. You need the photographer’s permission for use even if you purchased a print of the photo. When in doubt, consult a legal professional.

Does citing the source material clear me of copyright infringement?

No, a citation will not clear you of copyright infringement in any court of law. You must obtain permission for copyrighted materials you wish to use in your book.

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

To obtain permission for use of a material, you should contact the copyright holder and explain how you would use his/her work and for what purpose. Request their written permission to use the material in publication. Some copyright holders will give permission for free, while others will require a certain fee. If you fail to get a reply after several attempts, you may use the material but keep documentation of all instances of failed attempts and consult a legal professional to be sure.

What is libel?

Generally, libel is defined as a written false defamation or the publication of any statement that could cause damage to the reputation or character of an individual, a group, or organisation.

How can I protect myself against libel in publishing?

Truth is, in most cases, a defence in a libel case is often very difficult and lengthy (and expensive) to prove in court. If you are to publish a book based on real events with real people involved, the first step in protecting yourself from libel is to change the names of organisations and individuals. However, simply changing a character’s name from “Anna” to “Lisbeth” may not suffice. If a person recognizes themselves from the situation, places, and events even if their name is changed, you can still be sued for libel. Changing the location of events can also help to distance the story to make it unrecognisable to real people. For good measure, you can use a pen name to further distance any recognisable trail back to you or, most importantly, the people involved in your story to avoid trouble.

For instance, a reader knows you in real life. You make claims about your spouse’s doctor, change the name of both your spouse and the doctor, but you kept your real name as the author, it is pretty clear to someone who knows you who you are talking about. Using a pen name and changing names of people and organisations in a book will thereby remove the specifics and protect you against libel claims.

Stating your own opinion is not libellous; however, be careful that you are not actually making an accusatory statement. Even if you say “in my opinion” before a statement, it does not automatically make the statement an opinion if you are saying something about someone that is not proven to be true.

Do not make the following statements or claims, as they are clear grounds for a libel case:

  • False accusations indicting someone in a crime,
  • Falsely identifying someone as carrying an infectious disease,
  • Falsely charging an organisation or individual with a claim that discredits or disqualifies a business, office, or trade and lowers their profitability,
  • Falsely accusing someone of impotence

Seriously consider if you are publishing a book that may contain defamatory statements or reveals information that could damage an entity. Consult a legal advisor if you are concerned.

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

A private figure is one who is not in public eye. A public figure is one who has gained prominence in the community, e.g., a public official, celebrity, businessman, or sports star. There are varying degrees of public figures, which can also play a role in a case.

If you make a claim about a private figure in your book and the individual charges you with libel, they would only have to prove negligence or that a reasonable person would not have published the statements. If it’s a public figure, they must prove negligence and malice or intent to harm or that the writer has acknowledged the statements as false, which is more difficult to prove.