Friday, March 18, 2011

The Legal Side of Writing a Nonfiction Book

Here are some terms you should know and understand: copyright, permissions, acknowledgements, footnotes. Below are their definitions and important facts about each of these words.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a set of rights that regulates the use of a unique way of presenting an idea or information. At its most basic level, it is really “the right to copy” an original creation. Usually, these rights are for a fixed length of time. The notation for copyright may be written out or typed as either © or (C). Copyright may apply to a variety of creative, conceptual, or artistic forms or “works,” ranging from poems to plays, photographs to paintings, and dozens of other endeavors. Copyright is one of the laws covered by the greater term “intellectual property.”

What is not protected by copyright?

Copyright law covers only the precise form or manner in which ideas or information have been produced, i.e., the “form of material expression.” It is not designed or intended to cover the actual ideas, concepts, facts, styles, or techniques that may be represented by the copyright product.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for different time periods, depending on the part of the country, the category of work, and whether the work is published or unpublished. In most areas, the duration of copyright for many works is the life of the author plus seventy years.

What happens after copyright expires?

In the United States, all books and other items published before 1923 have expired copyrights and are in the public domain, and all works created by the U.S. government, regardless of date, enter the public domain upon their creation. If the author has been dead more than seventy years, the work is most likely in the public domain.

How is copyright transferred?

Under the U.S. Copyright Act, if you want to transfer ownership of your copyright, you must do it in writing. No official transfer form is required. A simple document that describes the work involved and the rights being granted is adequate. Nonexclusive grants (often called nonexclusive licenses) need not be in writing under U.S. law. A nonexclusive grant occurs when you allow someone to utilize your work by giving him your permission, e.g., when you allow a writer to include a paragraph of your book in his work. Your approval can be oral or even implied. Transfers of copyright ownership, including exclusive licenses should be formally noted in the U.S. Copyright Office. While filing is not mandated to make it effective, doing so offers important benefits.

How do you obtain a copyright?

Go to us copyright office

Download form CO - instructions

Fill out form on line

Print it out, sign it

Send all required copies along with a check for $50 to

Library of Congress

Copyright Office

101 Independence Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20559

How do you get permission to quote a source?

Many publishers supply a form to be used when requesting permission to quote from their publications. A typical form calls for the following information:

Title of the book to be quoted from

Nature of the work in which the selection will be used

Name of the author or compiler

Publisher of the new work

Intended date of publication

Selection to be quoted

Total pages or total lines

Market for which rights are requested (United States and Canada, world in English, or world in all languages)

How should you phrased acknowledgments?

Sometimes, the copyright owner will permit you to phrase the credit lines and to choose where they will be placed. As the author, you can then approximate a uniform style for the acknowledgments and either group them together or place each one in a footnote. When a publisher specifies the phrasing and placement to be used in the credit line, these instructions must be followed precisely.

When and how should you use footnotes?

The first citation of a work, especially if there is not a full bibliography in the book, should contain the following information, in this order:

Author’s name, as given on the title page

Title of the book, including the subtitle (underline or italicize)

Edition if other than the first

Title of the series, if significant (do not underline or put in quotation marks)

Place of publication (home office)


Date of publication

Volume and page numbers