As authors, whether Traditional, Indie or Self-Published, it’s our responsibility to know what we’re doing and to abide by the laws and legal rules of our chosen profession. In this post, I’ll be addressing some of the commonly mis-interpreted or confusing issue that we will face during our careers.
Most of this should be common sense, but I’m sad to say that I’ve seen plenty of smart, famous authors, illegally using photographers or celebrities images in their promo work. This is illegal and can get you sued, if the photographer/celebrity finds out. And they will.
Trust me, it’s not worth the risk. Once you have to face something like that, your reputation can be ruined. It may seen harmless, but it’s really not and it only takes one mistake to cause chaos.
Before we get started, you might want to read this document or save it. It’s Permissions Guidelines for Authors, by John Wiley & Sons, which is a global publishing company.
Music is one of those dangerous and tricky tools that can get you into a lot of trouble, and it won’t always be your fault. Sites like Animoto supply music for all different genres, for a monthly subscription. This can be invaluable when making a super amazing book trailer. However, when some artists get famous, they remove their work from Animoto and that’s where you an face problems. When you upload to YouTube, they’re so smart that they’ll warn you if there’s a legal issue with your music. YouTube and Animoto have a great relationship and can warn you about this, so always take notice of any warnings they give you.
When you make a book trailer with Music Maker, however, you don’t get those warnings and you have to be responsible for what you’re doing and what music you’re using. There are a bunch of sites that you can buy music from, for a subscription, or you can download from for free, as long as you credit the artist and song in your video. Which, should be good practice.
No matter where you get your music, free or not, it’s common courtesy to credit the artist and song.
Videos are basically the same as music. There are a lot of sites where you can get moving clips or just images for free or at a cost, for your book trailer. Be careful, remain vigilant and read all the legal rules of the website, before you use anything. Then, simply add a ‘Credits’ page at the end, so you can credit the website/artist or designer.
There are different rules for Quoting a book/author/poet and they can get a bit tricky, so I’m going to get some help here.
“The discussion for copyright of text and music lyrics is similar to that of images and graphics, but they are not exactly parallel. With a graphic or image, you’re likely using the entire work, whereas with text or music lyrics you’re only using a portion. It is much more clear that using an entire text or reproducing the full music lyrics would violate copyright, the question now becomes how much can be used so that you’re not.
Traditional publishers may have guidelines, but they’re also willing to defend them if challenged. For self-published authors, being sued for using “too much” of a work may not be a risk worth taking.
Of course, there is still the ability to ask for a license before using the work if you are concerned with the legalities of using copyrighted material. There is, also, Fair Use. However, as was mentioned with regard to images and graphics, it’s not a clearly defined exception.
Unlike the discussion above, though, with text or music lyrics you’re likely only using a portion of the work so there is a stronger argument with regard to the quantity of the work used. Nonetheless, Fair Use goes beyond just a “word count” and you must be able to establish that your use does not interfere with the owner’s rights.”
“You do not need permission to include song titles, movie titles, TV show titles—any kind of title—in your work. You can also include the names of places, things, events, and people in your work without asking permission. These are facts.
Because songs and poems are so short, it’s dangerous to use even 1 line without asking for permission, even if you think the use could be considered fair. However, it’s fine to use song titles, poem titles, artist names, band names, movie titles, etc.
The law does not offer any percentage or word count here that we can go by. That’s because if the portion quoted is considered the most valuable part of the work, you may be violating fair use. That said, most publishers’ guidelines for authors offer a rule of thumb; at the publisher I worked at, that guideline was 200-300 words from a book-length work in a teaching/educational context.”
This is a really sticky one, because I see authors illegally using images for promo posters and covers, on a daily basis. I’ve seen a self-published book with a famous actor on the front cover, selling on Amazon. They rendered it on the computer, as though that would disguise the actor, but it didn’t. Some add wings, hats, glasses, some form of disguise. Others blatantly use a celebrity in promo posts.
So what are the rules? Well, if yo’re doing a character casting, yes, you can use an actor/actresses image. Label the actor/actress and state which character in your book that you’d want them to play. That’s allowed.
Using a celebrities face or easily identifiable tattoo/logo/feature on a cover or promo poster is NOT legal. You can be sued.
The same goes for using photographer’s work. Unless you have their express permission to use the picture or they supply free downloads on a site like DeviantArt, you can’t use the image. In the case that you do have permission or a free LEGAL download, then you should always credit the photographer on the promo poster or in the credits of the book cover.
And here’s a last one that might help: Legal Issues in Self-Publishing: What Authors Need to Know
Free & Paid
(Please check individual sites and conditions, for payment options. Most are free, but often have paid features.)
Pixteller – supplies images and fonts. You cannot use your own fonts, but there are clipart images you can add. The site also saves your posters as Private or Public, as to your preference. You can also go back to your poster and change it, if you notice a mistake or change your mind. You don’t have to pay anything.
Pixlr – Also free, this one gives you more options than Pixteller. You can add layers, create 3D images and do a whole host of things that I haven’t learned to do yet. You can check out their blog, for all the great ways you can use this site.
Ribbet – You can register for this site, which used to allow you a free account. They’ve now made it that you have to pay for an upgrade to get all the fancy extras. However, the free version is great on its own and it allows you to use your own fonts. As an author, I collect free fonts so that each project is unique. (You can get some awesome fonts here at 1001 Fonts and Hongkiat.)
PicMonkey – This is my preferred site. My publisher has the ‘premier’ account, which is awesome, but you can also get some amazing features on the free account. You can use their fonts or your own and your own layers. You can also use all of their extras and effects.