Many times, new authors don’t have the foggiest idea as to what constitutes a permissible item to put in their book. They just want to write and publish their ideas! Yet one must get permission for just about anything that is used in print or even online, that is not your own. It is the law! Anything used without the owner’s permission, whether it is a company, an individual, or even a pet, the original owner and responsible party must be asked their permission for use. Otherwise, the copyright office may not accept your book as being your own original work. They can and will reject your registration for copyright! Any item not originally owned by you, where you have gotten permission to use it in your book, are written up into your book’s copyright as something called an “exception”. “Exceptions” are legally exempt from your copyright, as long as they are reported, and you have some form of permission proof available. The copyright office does investigate everything, which is why it costs money, and it often takes awhile to get one.
Quotes and Excerpts
This area is very tricky, and can be a “gray area”. If you use a well-known quote, a verse of a song or poem, you may have to get permission, and going about it can sometimes be quite difficult. To find the original owner of the copyrighted material can sometimes be impossible! Excerpts from books or magazines are a little bit easier due to the copyright statements listed on the copyright page listing who to contact. For anything more than a line or two, you should limit the amount of what is used. You must contact the owner to get their permission in writing, and usually have to add in your book that permission has been granted from the author or publisher. It is not okay to simply “give credit” in the bibliography if you quote a work. However, if you have quotes from a work that was done prior to 1923, it is most likely in the “public domain”, which means it is now considered “ownerless” and/or free for anyone to use. You should do a little research just to make sure that this is indeed the case, because copyright infringement is very serious, and you can easily get sued if you do not respect the copyright laws.
Photos of PeopleIt is extremely important to get permission from anyone before publishing their picture in your book. Any time a person can be identified in a photo, permission must be given in writing. The only alternative to getting permission is to slightly blur or distort a person’s face if it is impossible to find the subject. In crowd scenes, where it is likely that people will be photographed, it may not be as much of a concern, however if you want to be safe legally, try to secure permission or blur the person’s face. If done slightly- just enough to keep a person from being recognizable, it should not even be very noticeable. If you need a perfect subject, you must get permission! In order to do this, one should have their subject sign what is called a “Model Release Form”. It is even more important to get permission when publishing pictures with underage children.
Photos of AnimalsIt is also necessary to get permission from a pet or other animal’s legal owner before publishing their picture in your book. If an animal can be identified in a photo, permission must also be given in writing. This does not apply to wild animals, and feral or stray domesticated animals. Any animal that is ownerless or cannot be identified as such, is free to be photographed and used in your book. Professional pet photographers charge money for pictures of show animals and the like. It is hard work, as their subjects don’t always cooperate. They make their living from it, and usually sign and date their work with a copyright symbol. Artwork and photos do not require having a copyright on them, but it does help deter people from illegal copying them.
See the end of this article on purchasing our zipped file Permissions Pack containing “Model Release Forms”.
Advertising, Logos, and Products
For company ads, products or logos, you must contact the company in writing, whether by written letter or email, and be sure to get their permission response in writing! This is required by the copyright office, and listed as an exception to the work you own. Companies can be very protective of their copyrights and trademarked items. Many will threaten to sue if you use anything of theirs without permission. If they receive a request to use their logo, product, or ads and refuse, watch out! They are now alert to what you want to do. These commercial items are nothing to mess with. Companies pay big bucks to trademark their items. Fortunately, more companies seem to be flattered and receptive as opposed to hostile. Just be absolutely certain to get their permission in writing. If it is through email, print a copy of the whole exchange to a pdf, and have a file folder just for such proofs.
Artwork and Photography
For photographs taken by anyone other than yourself, or even works of art such as paintings, you must get permission from the original photographer or artist. These owners can usually be found online easily, since they are often selling their works, licenses to use them, or the rights to copies of them, and do so for a profit. It is their right, their line of business and livelihood. If not, they often at least want some sort of an attribution or acknowledgement. It can be a simple line under the picture “Photo courtesy of…” or sometimes a link to their website. One must make certain if there are any special permissions required to use someone else’s work that the conditions are followed to the letter. Anything used without permission is basically considered theft and may be punishable with fines.
Public Domain Works
The exception to permissions are works that are “in the public domain”, which are usually stated as such. Just because a picture may be found online, does not make it in the public domain. Once a copyright has expired (usually 72 years after it was filed or created) it often falls into the public domain. The source of any public domain picture, photo, book, or artwork must be proven as to where it came from. If this cannot be proven, it is quite likely that the copyright office may not accept your book as original, and will reject your registration of copyright! Be wary of places online that post nice photos and no notice as to its status. Very often it is posted illegally and without permission by unsuspecting or less knowledgeable people who are not aware of the copyright laws. You as an author do not want to get into trouble for using someone else’s work without permission.
We hope that this article helps shed some light on what is permissible and what to watch out for.