Copyright or Copywrong?

There has been an interesting and tedious aspect to this whole publishing thing that some of you may find yourselves up against, especially if you are with a small publishing house that has limited resources.

I have had the task of sourcing all copyright permissions for quotes and photos that I want to use in my book. Now larger publishing houses, I hear tell, have people who do this for you. In fact, I hear the author pretty much hands over the goods, makes changes as requested and waits to sign off of the finished product! Not I.

I started by figuring out what I needed permission for. Not easy in itself! A rule-of-thumb: try to stick with quotes from people who have been dead for more than 70 years – their stuff is in the public domain and you can quote to your heart’s content. Dead any less than that and it gets sticky, still alive and it has the potential to go either way as I have found out.

So my expereince with the “newly” dead and living involved writing and posting (no requests by email) to the publishers from whence I retrieved the quote. Invariably I had to write a second, sometimes a third, and on one occasion a fouth time to another publisher before I actually found WHO held the copyright! You see, publishing houses change, merge, go out of business, sell their lists… fiding the right person is the first hurdle.

You also need a whole lot of information both about the source and how you want to use it. Things like print run and format, publication date and territories, even where the quote will appear in your book and what the page will look like in some cases. Most of the big publishers have a pretty comprehensive list of the info you need to supply on their websites, so that’s where I started. Once the info was sent to the right person, I set about waiting for responses.

Most of the publishers were quick at getting back to me (by email!) and I didn’t have too much trouble. The communication was short, sweet and to the point. But in one case, they actually denied me permission to reproduce a poem I wanted to use. The explanation was that the Foundation wanted to “maintain the integrity” of the poet’s work, whatever that means. I was not allowed to use ANY of that poet’s work at all. So it was back to the beginning with that one. I was surprised. And devastated. it never even entered my mind that someone may not want their peom in my book! My modest, inspirational story of striving to live a little girl dream of going to the Olympic Games! My best-seller-to-be! My lovingly crafted work of 10 years! 

Moral of the story – don’t take it for granted that you’ll be able to use the quotes you have your heart set on and make sure you have backup options.

Photos have been a similar story – if you can actually find the copyright owner of the shots, be ready to pay big money for the right to use them. And don’t forget that you will most likely also need to get permission from the people who appear in them. This may not be an issue for everyone, but in my case, I have changed some names, so obviously they couldn’t appear in pics, and some of the appearees didn’t come off so nicely in my book.

So, in the end, I’ve decided to go with a couple of family snaps of me and the few nice pro shots that the photograpers themselves were happy to give royalty free – thank you Reece Scannell and Ray Wood! The cover will be a royalty-free i-stock photo and that will have to be that!

Happy hunting, thank goodness for Google searches and the kind direction of over-worked copyright processors who sent me from wrong path to right one time and again. And remember to respect the copyright laws – they are there for our protection!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s