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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It’s the Characters, Stupid

“It’s the economy, stupid.” That one sentence, spoken by then Clinton campaign strategist James Carville during the 1992 presidential campaign, referred to the notion that Clinton was a better man for the job because then President George H.W. Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which was still healing from a recession.

Those four words still have resonance today and will continue to resonate into eternity because in politics you can talk about your plans for a better future, better education, better technology for the masses, better transportation, better energy that’s cleaner and more abundant, but if the economy is in the crapper, all the other grand plans and ideas don’t mean zip.

Writing, I think, is the same way, a notion I was reminded of during my lecture on being an “authorpreneur” last night. I was giving my “Beyond the Book: how being an authorpreneur will help you sell more books and make lifelong fans” at the Weatherford Public Library in Weatherford, Texas. They are starting a new book club and wanted me to come talk about the writing life, how to get published, how to get an agent, and my latest novel, The Brink. During the end of the lecture, I opened it up for questions and we talked about how I do my research, the formula for a successful thriller, and the conspiracy behind the book. Then, out of nowhere, one lady raised her hand and said that, for her, what made her like the book wasn’t all the action and conspiracy and suspense, it was the characters. The main character, Danny Cavanaugh, who also is the main character in my first novel, Five Days in Dallas, is a troubled soul, to say the least. In Five Days in Dallas, he was a Dallas detective that had some issues that had plagued him for most of his life and that he had dealt with by self medicating with the bottle. In The Brink, he is now a fugitive Texas Ranger on the run for killing a dirty FBI agent. In some respects he’s grown, in some he hasn’t. It’s only when he meets the woman in The Brink, Sydney Dumas, who forces him to deal with his issues while they are running for their lives, does he actually begin to take a hard look at himself for the first time in his life. I must admit, I love his character, and her character, too.

Anyway, her comment about it being “all about the characters” touched off a long discussion about characters and we came to find out that for all the people in the room, it is mainly about the characters. Readers see bits and peices of themselves in characters, either who they are or who they would like to be. If they didn’t care about the characters, and fast (meaning a few pages into the book) they would close the cover and be on to the next book.

“It’s the characters, stupid.” No one actually said those words last night, but I will make sure that no matter how fast-paced, suspense-packed or conspiracy-laced I make my next story, I will remember those words. I’ve already put them on a sheet of paper and taped it up next to my computer.

What about you? Do you agree about the importance of characters? Or is there something else that’s more important? To the keyboards!

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The Brink by Mark Fadden has just been nominated for the Star Award from its publisher! Read more about The Brink and Mark’s writing at www.markfadden.com.

The story behind our stories

Advertisers have been doing it for years, using popular celebrities to sell their products. The reason? You probably like the guy that just won the Super Bowl, or you might like their team’s story, (see New Orleans Saints) and you find yourself rooting for that underdog. If the quarterback from that team turns to the camera with trophy in hand and shouts, “I’m going to Disneyworld!” you might just want to go there, too.

But what about authors? While we are spinning our stories, we each have our own life story that influences how and what we write. But how much influence does our life story have on how popular our writing is?

The latest viral video sensation is Ted Williams, the homeless man with a golden voice. He will probably get the second chance that he’s been vying for all these years. Why? Because we like stories of redemption and second chances. He seems very genuine and we want to give him that chance. We like women like Susan Boyle that get to finally live their dream by showing the world their talent. We read JK Rowling, not just because her stories are fantastic, but because we know how she struggled before they were published.

But why do the backstories of these people matter? Do we feel sorry for them? No. We identify with them. We support them because we are them. If we were to fall like Ted Williams did, we would want someone else to help us back up. If we had a talent like Susan Boyle, we would want the opportunity to show the world. If we were a struggling author like JK Rowling was (and many of us are), we would want the chance that she got when her story got into the right hands.

We’ve all struggled in our lives and we like to hear stories about how those that struggled finally acheived their dreams. It is those stories that keep hope alive. And it is those stories that are more important than anything any author could ever dream up.

Agree? Disagree? To the keyboards!

Author’s Note: Speaking of life stories, mine has taken a twist recently. My mother passed away on New Year’s Eve, so please forgive the lapses in blog posts over the next few weeks as my family and I sort out her matters.

Your 2011 Writing Resolution, part II

Since we’re so close to ringing in the New Year, let’s keep rolling with another topic for 2011 Writing Resolutions. Last night we kicked things off with striving for a daily word goal. Mine is 2,500. Tonight’s topic: joining a writing group.

Now, I’ve got a bit of a bias against writing groups, which I must say is nowhere near what one of my favorite writers, Anthony Bourdain, says about being in the company of other writers in his latest book, Medium Raw: “If you’ve ever spent ten minutes in one of those [writer’s bars] – a bunch of bitter, snowy-haired, bilious f**** with gin-blossomed noses and ballooning guts talking too loud and laughing too hard and secretly hating each other – you’ll reconsider ever putting another word to paper. I’ve found that hanging out with more than one of them at a time is about as much fun as being thrown into a cage full of hungry but toothless civet cats.”

My opinion on writing groups has always been that, besides the fact that being the father of 2 young boys and having barely enough time to talk to my wife these days about anything more than soccer game schedules and what to get the teachers for Christmas let along carve out several hours a week for to prepare for and meet with a critique group, what if the advice you’re getting from them is wrong? NY editors, the Word Gods themselves, have a hard enough time figuring out what will sell and what won’t. What makes Benny the furniture salesman, or Anita the lady who works at the county licensing office, an expert on your blood, sweat, and tears?

Well, here’s the thing. Benny and Anita are readers. Your readers. My readers. And if they say something like, “You know, there’s just too many characters to follow in the opening pages,” and that sentiment is about the 20th time you’ve heard it, then tuck that little nugget in the back of your brain for the next novel.

So, while I still don’t have the time to formally join a writing group, I am attending my local group’s annual conference. They’ve got some pretty good classes and breakout sessions listed. Who knows, maybe they’ll crack my crusty exterior with their warmth and congeniality and I’ll investigate the group a little further. Besides, I hear Anita makes killer brownies, which she brings to every meeting.

What about you? What are your thoughts on your local writing/critique groups? Do you regularly attend writing/critique groups? Do you plan to in 2011?

To the keyboards!

Crossing Over to BookCrossing

Ever heard of BookCrossing.com? Basically, here’s what it is and how it works. You write an ID # on the inside cover of your book with a note explaining that it is a free book. You then leave it in a public place (coffeehouse, restaurant, park bench, etc.) Hopefully, the person who finds it will read it, post a review, how they got it, etc. along with the ID # so it can be tracked. Then, they pass it on. String this scenario out a few hundred times and you’ve got a cool story about how a book has traveled across perhaps the world and touch numerous lives in the process.

I think you can tell where I’m going with this one. Time to donate a few copies of your books to the wild social experiment that is bookcrossing.com. Everyone is talking about how to grow your fanbase organically. Bookcrossing.com is about as organic as it can get. Plus, it will be really cool if your book winds up being read by our troops in Afghanistan and become part of the first armed book club ever! 

Speaking of arms, bookcrossing.com doesn’t recommend you leave your book in an airport or other place where authorities are on the lookout for suspicious packages. Let’s not scare anyone this close to the holidays.