As self-published e-books top best-seller lists, writer-entrepreneurs may be wondering: Should e-book authors who self-publish submit their books for a legal review?
If an author expects her book to get a decent amount of exposure, and the book contains material that isn't in the public domain, then consulting an attorney who knows a bit about publishing laws isn't a bad idea.
Here are five legal tips for those writing an e-book, self-published or otherwise:
Copyright registration can protect you. Questions about copyright are quite common for e-book authors, and for good reason. When you publish an e-book, copyright protection begins the moment it's created. Still, you may want to register your copyright just in case any legal disputes arise -- namely, if someone claims you're infringing on their copyright, or if you want to prevent someone from using your copyrighted material. By registering your copyright, you make it easier to receive compensation or have a court enforce legal protections for your e-book.
Your e-book's cover may need legal cover. Let's be honest, people often do judge a book by its cover. If you're making saucy claims, you might need to include a disclosure. You may also need clearance and possibly a license to use trademarked names, phrases, and logos, as well as copyrighted photos, artwork, and even digitally rendered fonts.
Speaking of trademarks... If you're using trademarked material, throwing in a ® (for registered trademarks) or a ™ (for common-law trademarks) might be enough. But depending on the circumstances -- like if your title includes a trademarked word or phrase -- it may also be wise to add specific legal language to your copyright page. Contact the trademark owner to see if referencing the owner of the trademark will suffice. Many large trademark holders have a standard protocol for granting permission that's often posted on the company website.
Be picture-perfect when it comes to copyrights. If an image in your e-book is copyrighted, you will likely need a license in order to use it. A license may be exclusive or nonexclusive, and can be restricted by factors such as purpose (like commercial versus non-commercial), territory, duration, and media (like e-book versus print).
Be fair about fair use. You might be able to use copyrighted material in your e-book without permission if it's being used for comment, critcism, scholarship, or parody. Determining fair use, however, isn't always easy since it's a fact-based gray area of the law. Consequently, courts make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
If you think you need to get your e-book reviewed for legal issues, consult an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area. With any luck, that'll be "The End" of all your legal concerns.