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Keeping Your ePubbing Legal


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#1 RC Lewis

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 02:47 PM

We all know how easy it's become to digitally self-publish an eBook these days. That means it's become just as easy to get yourself in some real legal trouble. Just as we wouldn't want a so-called "writer" to plagiarize our work, likewise we shouldn't infringe on the copyrights of our fellow artists ... any of them. And some of them, you may never have even thought of.

So here we go. An overview of things to watch out for, and a few tips on doing it right.


Cover Images

Just because you found it on the internet and were able to download it doesn't mean you can use an image (photo, graphic, etc.) for commercial purposes. For that reason ...

DO NOT rely on a Google Images search (or similar under any other search engine). You'll find anything and everything, and often the source site won't have any connection to the original artist. The sites you find may or may not be using that image legally.

DO go to royalty-free stock image sites, such as istockphoto, bigstockphoto, and 123rf. READ THE USAGE AGREEMENTS/LICENSES CAREFULLY. Sometimes their usage depends on whether you "significantly alter" the image (which is often the case with book covers). Sometimes there is a print limit. I'm still trying to determine whether the prohibition of "print-on-demand" items relates only to Cafe Press-type T-shirts, mugs, etc., or if POD books are included under that umbrella.

Some prohibit the use of images as part of a logo. Some restrict the maximum size (resolution) you can use.

Some of those restrictions can be nullified if you buy an extended use license (usually significantly more expensive). Some of the restrictions are absolute no matter what.

READ THE RULES, then READ THEM AGAIN.

ANOTHER OPTION is a site like deviantART. You'll find a wide variety of artists, from amateur to professional. Whether or not you can use a given image varies on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the artist just requires credit. Sometimes the image is free for use. Sometimes you can't use the image at all, but the artist can be hired to commission an original piece. READ CAREFULLY.


Fonts

DO NOT assume that because a font is on your computer, it's fair game. Often fonts get added because of programs you installed. The software company had permission to use that font, and by extension, you have permission for personal use of that font. Your commercial use of that font does not always follow.

DO search various specialty font sites (there are about a gazillion) and CAREFULLY note personal/commercial use allowances. Sometimes you need to purchase a license for a font--and they can be expensive in some cases. Sometimes the font artist just asks for a donation, with the amount at your discretion. (Be reasonable, not too cheap.)


Brushes

If you're doing your own cover design (or even interior design, creating watermarks or something for a POD version), you may be familiar with the multitude of things you can do with special Photoshop brushes. They're available for download, again at many sites.

DO NOT assume no one will ever know you used a particular brush that's not licensed for commercial use.

DO carefully check guidelines on whatever site you download the brushes from. If it doesn't indicate personal vs. commercial use, find someone to ask.


Lyrics/Poetry/Excerpts

The infamous song lyric bugaboo. Song titles are fair game, so your safest bet is to reference the song that way and let your reader do the singing.

DO NOT assume that quoting just one line, or just two, or just the chorus, or just one paragraph of your favorite book is okay. Big-6 publishers have had to pay big bucks for a single line of lyrics. You don't want the artist to sue you for the same ... or more.

DO check and double-check. Maybe a poem or novel you want to quote from are in the public domain. Maybe you have a connection to the artist and can get permission. Maybe you don't know the artist, but are really persuasive. Fine, go for it, but get a lawyer to draw up some paperwork for you.

When in doubt, leave it out.


Anything I've missed or should elaborate on further? I'll add to this post as things are clarified or the landscape changes.

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#2 Cat Woods

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 02:54 PM

And I continue to be amazed that fonts are copyrighted.

Thanks for this post, RC. I'm definitely not savvy enough to handle this type of thing on my own, so it's nice to know somebody has my back...er, front.

Lead the way, Fearless RC!

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#3 Jean Oram

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 03:03 PM

Thanks for bringing this up.

While I am not self-publishing at the moment I AM creating a new WEBSITE. The things you mentioned above are also very important to keep in mind for creating a logo, banner, or even simply using the images on your website. Face it, if we sell a book, suddenly our writing blog is commercial. Do you really want to rebrand yourself visually?

Oh, look at that I think I just gave myself a headache with the implications of that last statement.

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#4 Jean Oram

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 03:06 PM

Shutterstock.com is also a good one for images. Also try Wikipedia Commons for images. The licenses do vary within Wikipedia so do watch each individual photo.

I also recommend keeping a log of the images you use and their licenses as well as the date and your receipt if you paid for it. Just in case.

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#5 S Jenan

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 03:25 PM

Anybody know about incorrectly quoted movie lines? I've got one brief part that does just that, where it's clear what the characters are referring to, but it's not actually a 'quote' because it's not the correct wording from the movie.

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#6 Jean Oram

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 03:54 PM

I would assume that would fall under copyright if it is obvious where it is from. But I'm just assuming.

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#7 RC Lewis

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:31 PM

Anybody know about incorrectly quoted movie lines? I've got one brief part that does just that, where it's clear what the characters are referring to, but it's not actually a 'quote' because it's not the correct wording from the movie.


That's a tricky one, and *might* fall under fair use, which allows for parody and satire and such.

Hopefully one of our brilliant legal minds (*ahem* "Paging Peter Morin and Litgal!") can clarify that point.

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#8 Lori Sjoberg

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:22 PM

Great post, RC. Thanks!

#9 Jennie

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:26 PM

Great post. I was hoping to write something similar, but I haven't had any time. :(

I would like to add a couple thoughts about the royalty-free photographs and covers. Just keep in mind that purchasing the rights to a royalty-free photo doesn't take it off the market for anyone else. So it's possible that you could use that image for your cover and then find another cover with that same image later on. There's a difference between paying to use the work and buying all the rights to the work so that it cannot be used again. This is especially important to remember with Google Images because most of those really cool digital pictures take months and tens of thousands (sometimes over a hundred thousand) of dollars to create. Because they are so incredibly expensive to make, they always belong completely to one entity (a game, film, or television studio) and you will not be able to get the rights to use the picture commercially at all.

As a digital artist, I work on a lot of shows, but I do not have the rights to any of my work. I'm allowed to display it as part of my portfolio, but I would never be able to sell it to you. It belongs to the client that commissioned it. When my studio worked on Heroes, NBC even retained all of the rights to the digital assets we created to finish the shots. There is a huge carnival scene and we created all of the rides, etc. in 3D. We can't use the 3D models for other shows even if we modify them. They take it really seriously and if we ever crossed even that seemingly small line, we would get sued.

If you want a completely unique cover that no one else will ever have, you'll want to either take your own picture, create your own art, or commission an artist to create it for you (and make sure that your contract states that you retain full rights to the art so they cannot sell it to someone else). Obviously, this will be much more expensive as you will have to pay for all of the artist's time and equipment as well.

Also, there is one more site to add to the list. Morguefile.com has some great pictures that are completely free AND royalty-free. Most of them are under a creative commons license. You will still need to check the individual pictures. Some artists require that their art not be used for certain things or to promote certain subjects (politics, violence, erotica, etc. It depends).

I hope this helps and I'd be happy to answer any questions about the creation of digital art.

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#10 C. Taylor

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:47 PM

I know there's been some confusion as to whether or not the standard license with Bigstock covers book covers that are POD, so I called them. Turns out you CAN use their images with their standard license for all forms of books (ebook, POD, paperback, hardcover, etc.). You would need to repurchase the image if using it on a different book/cover. But like Jennie said, anyone else can use the same image, so don't be surprised if you see it popping up on other covers.

Also, Bigstock's images are fine for use on websites and website banners, but not to be branded as your company logo.

So, yes to books of all sorts, and websites. No to POD articles, like mugs, t-shirts, etc. And no using their image as your company logo, which you then put on all sorts of stuff.

Hope this helps clarify things! And keep in mind, that's just Bigstockphoto.com. I believe 123rf.com is also similar. Not sure about the other stock photo places, though, since each place is different and some do require the extended license.

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#11 RC Lewis

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:59 PM

One more thing I forgot to add, and I can't remember which stock site mentioned it. (I think it was 123rf, but I'm on my phone and can't check right now.) They said that if you used an image on a digital file, then again on a physical object, you would need two licenses. In other words, pay for it twice. I'll need to dig deeper to clarify if that means what I'm thinking--once for the eBook, once for the hard copy.

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#12 Guest_CathrynLouis_*

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 06:16 PM

Great topic. Learned a lot. Another image site is Dreamstime.

#13 C. Taylor

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 07:17 PM

Rc, yes, I believe that's the case for 123rf.

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#14 Jennie

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 07:21 PM

Thanks for bringing this up.

While I am not self-publishing at the moment I AM creating a new WEBSITE. The things you mentioned above are also very important to keep in mind for creating a logo, banner, or even simply using the images on your website. Face it, if we sell a book, suddenly our writing blog is commercial. Do you really want to rebrand yourself visually?

Oh, look at that I think I just gave myself a headache with the implications of that last statement.


I was wondering about this as well. I'm not sure if it applies since authors don't really have their own logo and blogs don't usually directly sell things. I guess I think of them as a portfolio site. But I could be wrong and it's probably better to be safe than sorry.

Edited to add: I guess I'm thinking of something like Neil Gaiman's blog. Sure, it beefs up his web presence, but he doesn't really use it to sell books. It's just his online journal. Just because you're famous doesn't mean that your entire web presence is commercial.

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#15 RSMellette

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 07:56 PM

Edited to add: I guess I'm thinking of something like Neil Gaiman's blog. Sure, it beefs up his web presence, but he doesn't really use it to sell books. It's just his online journal. Just because you're famous doesn't mean that your entire web presence is commercial.


Actually, I just did a job interview for a company that does websites for celebrities, where they blog about products - major advertising dollars.

I heard a story on a film set a few weeks back where the guy that did Mike Tyson's tattoo sued over the image being used in The Hangover II. There's a crazy thought. You pay someone to put their art on your face, and yet you might not own it. Because of that lawsuit extras with tattoos had to get them approved and/or altered before they went on camera - and that's just for guys walking around in the background.

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#16 TBruce

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:01 PM

Anyone know the legal ins and outs if I own an original piece of artwork (such as a painting or pen & ink drawing) and want to use it as a book cover? If I bought the original - say, at a studio or heck, even off a guy selling paintings on the side of the road, do I now own all the rights to that artwork and I can use it for whatever I want or have I just bought the "rights" to display that one copy on my wall and I'd have to track down the artist and pay him/her for the right to reproduce said art as a book cover?

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#17 Jennie

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:04 PM

Huh! That's really interesting. I guess that makes sense about the blogs. I didn't think about them advertising OTHER people's products. Doesn't really surprise me though.

Man, that tattoo thing is weird. I wouldn't have thought of that either. Although it's strange what people get up in arms over. We did an episode for Parenthood where we had to remove all identifying marks on a New York Times newspaper that they used as a prop. The studio couldn't get permission to use it. The Times wanted a ton of money for it.

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#18 Jennie

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:06 PM

Anyone know the legal ins and outs if I own an original piece of artwork (such as a painting or pen & ink drawing) and want to use it as a book cover? If I bought the original - say, at a studio or heck, even off a guy selling paintings on the side of the road, do I now own all the rights to that artwork and I can use it for whatever I want or have I just bought the "rights" to display that one copy on my wall and I'd have to track down the artist and pay him/her for the right to reproduce said art as a book cover?

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No, owning the piece for personal use and owning it for commercial use are two different things. You'd need to track him down and pay him for the commercial rights (if he's willing to sell). A lot of artists sell the original but continue to sell prints of a piece.

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#19 RC Lewis

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:15 PM

Jennie, I assume therein lies the distinction between *purchasing* a piece of artwork and *commissioning* one, yes?

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#20 C. Taylor

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:23 PM

Not only that, but I'd think you'd need to commision it with the purpose of using it commercially and have the artist be aware of that so they sign off-- not just "hey, I want a painting".

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