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Podcast: Download (Duration: 58:28 — 46.8MB)
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There are questions that come up over and over again in the self-publishing world: What does copyright even mean? How do I write about real people and not get sued? How can I protect against piracy? Today, I interview lawyer Helen Sedwick about these and many other legal issues.
In the intro, I talk about the new Kindle Voyage, heading to Frankfurt Book Fair and what I'm learning from Dean Wesley Smith's productivity course that has resulted in 20,000 words done for Gates of Hell, my next novel in the last 9 days.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Helen Sedwick is a California attorney with 30 years experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction and has also written the Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook to help writers self-publish while minimizing legal risk.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube, or read the notes and links below.
- How Helen studied creative writing, but eventually went to law school when she wanted to earn more money, but she continued to write on the side. 30 years later, she self-published her historical novel, Coyote Winds, and learned so much about the process. She wrote a guide to help other authors based on her legal perspective.
- What is copyright? When does it come into existence and how do you register it? Using the metaphor of a house you own, Helen explains how each room represents a certain right, and how you can best exploit those and protect yourself.
- Some key publishing contract clauses to watch out for. Limit the rights by length of time, or the format asked for. Make sure that a publisher will actually exploit any rights you sell. How the end of the contract is managed and when you get your rights back. Defining ‘out of print' in a digital age.
- Using images, quotes, poetry and song lyrics. Permissions, fair use, parody, using images, creative commons, royalty-free and the issues you might face with other people's copyright. Helen also has a new book: How to use eye-catching images without paying a fortune or a lawyer, which is really useful. I also mention my Flickr account, which is Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial.
- On writing memoir and real life people and events – without getting sued! Considering privacy issues and country differences.
- On piracy and enforcing copyright. How to use take-down notices. But basically, obscurity is more of a risk than piracy, and some authors use piracy as a form of marketing these days.
- Avoiding scams in the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. Check out Writer Beware. We also discuss competitions and which are worth entering.
- Collaborating with other authors, translators and other professionals. What you need to consider if you want to work successfully with other people.
- On working with attorneys and lawyers – if you need one.
- How setting up a business can be great for optimizing your finances.
You can find Helen at HelenSedwick.com and on twitter @HelenSedwick. I highly recommend you read her amazing blog, buy her books and email her if you have legal questions. You can also leave comments or questions below.
Elise M. Stone says
A very informative podcast. Toward the end of the interview, Helen mentioned a list of contests on Goodreads. I couldn’t find such a list. Is it possible to get a link to that list? Thanks!
Helen Sedwick says
Here is the list on Goodreads. It has grown to almost 10,000 contests, which makes it less valuable than it used to be. But it’s a quick way to research the winners and see where your work fits best.
A couple more selective lists can be found at these two sites.
Good luck to you.
Carol Topp CPA says
Great podcast Joanna and Helen. I found myself nodding in agreement about so many things Helen mentioned re: collaborations, setting up as a business, but that’s probably because I’m a CPA.
Sad to say I had one of my author-clients get scammed by a predator publisher. She is an older writer, as Helen mentioned who, are prey to these types.
I just ordered Helen’s book and Joanna’s new book too!
Hi Joanna: I’m recalling from your podcast with Helen Sedwick that you permit others to use your photographs under a Creative Commons license (CC). The best practice is to register your photographs with the United States Copyright Office BEFORE releasing them: http://copyright.gov/
If a person living in the US exceeds the terms of your CC license (for example, s/he totally ignores the license, uses the photograph commercially, doesn’t provide you attribution, creates derivatives, etc.), the infringement is broad, the use is not within the scope of Fair Use (Fair Dealing), and you feel you deserve financial restitution, you’ll have leverage to seek money damages against the American corporation/individual.
In fact, UK-, Europe-, Australia/NZ-, and Canada-based creatives should consider registering their art & literary works with the US Copyright Office. If your work is being infringed in your country, there’s a chance that it’s also being infringed in the US. A “timely” US registered copyright provides international creatives with the most legal options (statuary damages and attorney fees, among other things) if they have to pursue an infringer in a United States federal courtroom.
Helen Sedwick says
Thank you, US/Artist. Excellent advice!
If I am writing a book and want to say the people in the book lived in a certain city and state and went to a certain real high school can I be sued for using a high school name ?
Helen Sedwick says
Casey, Yes you may use the real names of the high school and other real places and people, with a few common sense limitations.
Don’t make it appear as if your book was produced by or endorsed by the school.
If you are going to place a criminal or other event at the school that might potentially damage its reputation, then I suggest you change the name of the school. While you may not have legal liability for a fictional event, changing the name could save you the headache of dealing with angry school administrators.
Let me know if you have any more questions.
Sheila Banks says
I am almost ready to publish a non-fiction book on my speciality of low thyroid hormones. I am concerned about several legal aspects of self-publishing. For example, I have considered setting up a limited company, but don’t know if this is necessary for protection or advisable for any added complexity. I would LOVE to be able to buy a guide to the legalities of indie publishing.
I live and work in the UK and I see that Helen Sedgwick is a US lawyer. Does her advice cover UK law? Out is it just for the US?
Richard Vaughan-Davies says
I am pubkishing an ebook which contains a line from an Edith Piaff song. Do i need permission? Thank you.
Joanna Penn says
Check Helen’s book on this 🙂