03 October 2010

Get your permissions (copy) right

Ooh, managed to get all the copyright permissions for my non-fiction book on OCD at last. Even though it didn't take me long, it has been a painful process. The most difficult task was to find the copyright owner for the NICE publication. I've lost count of emails sent into the void, but luckily in a sudden enlightement I decided to ask a copyright holder of another publication for advice and lo and behold! they happened to be The Right One.
Big thank you to all helpful people and my intuition.

If you writing a non-fiction book or article and quoting directly material other than your own, don't rely on your intuition only.

1. Find out who holds the copyright. For unpublished materials it's usually the author, for published books, magazines, other periodicals - check the copyright or editorial pages. It may be a bit trickier with photography, but start with the publisher (and remember that even when you're using your own photographs you may still need a permission such as model or property release). The fact material found on the Net is anonymous does not mean it is not copyrighted. When in doubt - don't do without!

2. Get your permissions early. Some publishers take up to a couple of months to reply to your request. Copyright owners in foreigh countries may take even longer! And you have that book/article to finish on time. Although there is nothing wrong with carrying on writing your book or article while you're waiting, you can't afford it going into publication without all the permissions in place.

3. Get your permissions in writing, even from your friends or relatives (this can be a particularly risky move because you may potenitially lose not only money or reputation as an author but also a friend).
Society of Authors suggests this model permission licence letter for use.
My publisher is happy with emails, but check with your publisher if you need to have your permissions in hard copy (e.g. a 'proper' letter), or if an email would do.

4. Have your purse ready. You may need to pay. How much? It depends on many factors, such as the lenght of the excerpts you're using, the circulation of your publication, etc. Copyright permissions for many academic publications can be obtain through Rightslink and Copyright Clearance Center. Rightslink can give you estimated released fee - which is particularly important if you're about to use what may be a very expensive quotation (I decided to make a minor change in my book after I saw the quote for my quote. Sorry, guys, it wasn't worth the £360).
Before commiting yourself to any payments (and asking for the invoice!), check your contract - it will usually contain information on who is to pay release fee. There may be some room for negociation with your publisher.

5. Make sure you understand the key word - substantial.
'Substantial' is not defined in Copyright Act, but is 'a matter of fact and degree', and is more about quality of the used excerpt, how big a portion of the original work you're quoting, how it affects your book/article, etc rather than the quantity. If in doubt- always ask.
In case of reviewing or critique a rule of 'fair dealing' applies and you may not need to seek permissions to quote - see Society of Authors guidance on the matter for further details.

6. There is no copyrights on facts, titles or ideas.

More details on copyrights, moral rights and permissions on Society of Authors website. The history and international copyrigths agreements on Wiki, and Top Ten Questions about Copyrights and Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Permissions on Writing World.
Happy quoting!

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