Copyrights and Trademarks

As our world gets more social, and the more thoughts and ideas we put out there, it seems there’s a greater chance that we can step on someone else’s toes when it comes to each other’s work. Case in point, I got an email from a gentleman that wanted to talk about my using “Beyond the Book” as my blog title. His podcast about books was also called ‘Beyond the book’, and he had a registerd trademark on it.

We talked on the phone and he asked me politely to consider changing it. I had never heard of his podcast and I truly did make up “Beyond the book” out of thin air. But, not wanting a big fight about it, and the fact that I was considering changing the title anyway, I changed my blog to “Behind the Book.” While this case was not a big deal, it brings up a very good point: what’s the legal black and white when it comes to copyright and trademark law in the blogosphere?

First, because I do get the  following questions often, let’s take a look at a couple copyright laws at they pertain to your books and/or manuscripts:

1. Do I have to buy a copyright for my manuscript or book?

The simple answer is no. The 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 copyright. Your publisher may offer a Library of Congress copyright and that is something which you may have to pay for (especially if you self pub)

2. Can I use a quote or  a character from real life in my book without getting permission?

While there is no defined rule about the number of lines or words that can be used without permission, you will probably be protected under “fair use” if you use just a few lines. If you want to use a person in real life, say for instance President Obama, as a character in your book, you can because that person is in the public domain. But if you do, then you have to be careful about libel when referencing anything that could be considered negative about that public figure. If you have any questions about what’s cool to use and what’s not, consult an attorney.  

There is also the issue of works considered to be “in the public domain.” This means that a work’s copyright has expired or lacks proper notice. Works in the public domain are not copyright protected and are free to use without permission. However, determining if a work is truly in the public domain can be tricky because of new versions of older works and their protection status in foreign countries.

So now, what about blogs, copyrights and trademarks? Since the medium is still so new, there is alot of gray area out there. A good reference article on Blog Herald focuses on the blog entitled “Palintology,” which is about Sarah Palin. As the Palintology case points out, alot of it depends upon how valuable the word or phrase associated with the blog is. Before she was tapped to run as a VP candidate, the Palintology blog wasn’t that big of a deal. But then, almost overnight, it became one of the go to sources for information about Sarah Palin.

What are your concerns about copyrights? Does trademark law keep you up at night?  To the keyboards!

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Mark Fadden is a freelance writer and award-winning author of Five Days in Dallas and The Brink. Send him an email at mark@markfadden.com.  

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One Response

  1. Mark,
    Thanks so much for this valuable information about copyrights and trademarks. There is just so much to learn about this writing business and it really helps when someone like you really clarifies these issues.

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