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How to commit e-book copyright infringement

I don’t want anyone to commit e-book copyright infringement.

However, there may be acts that you are probably doing that qualify as infringement and could get you into trouble. I am most delighted to talk about these problematic acts because…Well, I’m a lawyer and it’s my job.

Let’s talk about e-books: They are those publications that you may see available on Kindle or E-Pub…Or any other digital channel.

Copyright logo
Copyright logo to recognize a registered work. Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

First and foremost, are e-books recognized as material that can be copyrighted ?

Heck, yes.

In quoting the U.S. Copyright Office verbatim, copyright law is “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

In other words, I recite this to myself by saying: Copyright law protects anything you write or create that has not been written or created by anyone else.

A piece of work that is a copy
Is the work a copy of something else that already exists? Image by Martin Pysko from Pixabay

How are e-books protected by copyright, you may ask?

E-books can be protected by copyright by registering them as ‘literary devices’ with the U.S. Copyright Office because they qualify as “other digital contents’. The Office allows copyrighting of ‘other digital content.’

There are extremely large numbers of e-books out in cyber-space today. You may be a writer who has written an e-novel, or an e-education book, or some other type of writing in digital format. You want to be aware of the things not to do that would keep you from receiving a letter like this in the mail:

“It has been determined that you are currently using XYZ work without prior authorization. If you do not cease using the work, a lawsuit will be commenced against you.”

Cease and Desist to Stop Copyright Infringement. Image by TPHeinz from Pixabay

It is not fun to receive cease and desist letters – Especially when you are just about to sit down to a quiet breakfast with your newspaper, and originally planning to enjoy a most uneventful day – Then the letter came.

Let’s see what we can do to prevent such events from happening, shall we?

Copyright infringement can occur in a number of ways where you may not have been aware that you were infringing on someone else’s copyright. You thought you had all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted to be legit.

3 of the hidden ways that one could commit infringement are:

  • Using images in your electronic e-book and did not verify if they are royalty free:

There are several sites that offer royalty-free photos for use, even for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, one could fall into the unintended hole of using a photo that is copyrighted in an e-book.

I would encourage you to do a diligent search for sites that explicitly offer free photos and indicate that no recognition or mention of the author is needed if you use the photo. I would recommend that you mention/acknowledge the creator of the photo, though, if their information is provided.

  • You implemented a “Common Man’s Copyright” for your book:

This is what is known as the “poor man’s” copyright. An individual mails, or in this case, perhaps emails, a copy of the electronic book to themselves, maybe in PDF format, to show the date stamp on the email as proof to the world that the book had existed since that day of mail. As the U.S. Copyright office unequivocally puts it: “The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

Enough said.

  • You used a word or term that has been registered by another author:

It has become more common that authors take out intellectual property protection on terms or phrases, or even on words. (In this case, the protection would be a trademark). It is clearly difficult to find out in advance whether someone has IP protection on a word or phrase. The good news is that to have IP protection on words or phrases, that word or phrase has to meet certain criteria before intellectual property law can protect it. This is a different topic for a different blog.

The best bet when trying to ‘own’ a word or phrase as your own, is to engage the services of an intellectual property lawyer to support you.

Have you experienced any “oops” scenarios mentioned above with your digital content? If so, share how you made out and what you are doing to prevent such issues from arising again!

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