Copyrights

Can You Publish Letters From Other People in Your Work?

Q: I plan to write a series of prank letters to politicians, celebrities and manufacturing firms, and then publish my letters and the replies in a book of humor. Do the replies to my letters become my property to publish in my book? —Gene M. A: Letters sent to you aren’t your property—or, at...

Does Selling All Rights Mean I Can't Use the Same Topic Again?

Q: If a magazine buys all rights to a non-fiction article I wrote about my granddaughters’ medical problems, can I have other articles or a book published which would include the same information? I use the same description of the disease for everything I write about it.  So far I have only published articles...

Can You Copyright a Title?

Q: I’ve been working on a book and the title is very important—I use it as the URL for my blog, for a weekly column I write, etc., and I want people to identify it with me. Can I copyright a title so others can’t use it? –Anonymous A: Copyrights cover works fixed in...

UPDATED: Can You Write the Sequel to Someone Else's Book?

NOTE TO READERS: AFTER WRITING THIS Q&Q I READ A COPYRIGHT LAW THAT DIDN’T JIVE WITH MY ANSWER, SO I CONTACTED AN ATTORNEY TO SET THINGS STRAIGHT. GLAD I DID, BECAUSE I WAS OFF. AFTER SOME DIGGING WE FOUND THAT THE GREAT GATSBY WILL ENTER THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IN 2020, NOT 2010 AS I...

How Do You Regain Copyrights to Pieces You've Sold?

Q: About 20 years ago, I sold a short story to a magazine. One line in my contract stated the payment was for “full rights” and another said, “On acceptance of this payment, the author transfers the copyright interest to … .” Does this mean I can’t sell the story ever again, even as...

How Do I Copyright My Manuscript?

Q: I recently finished a novel and want to know what I can do to have it copyrighted. Is there a special process? –Sylvia R. A: Whenever you put something in a tangible format—written on paper, typed on computer, chiseled on stone tablets—it’s copyrighted and protected under U.S. copyright law. No tricks. No magic....

Can You Use Someone Else's Character in Your Book?

Q: Can I use a minor yet intriguing character from a famous work as the protagonist of my novel? I know it’s been done with novels like Wide Sargasso Sea, using Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but would a secondary character from a novel published before 1950 (yet still in print) also be allowed?—Anonymous...

What's Considered Fair Use and What Isn't?

Q: Is it necessary to ask permission to reprint an article if the reprint is used in a strictly academic setting?—Anonymous A: Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107 of the U.S. code states that “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies … for purposes such as criticism,...

What Are First Serial Rights (or FNASR)?

Q: When working out a contract with a magazine, what are first serial rights?—Anonymous A: When you sell first serial rights to a newspaper, magazine or periodical for a piece of work you’ve written, that media outlet has the right to be the first place to publish the article/story/ poem. After the piece runs,...

Can You Copyright a Pseudonym?

Q: Do I need to get a copyright for a pseudonym, or will a copyright for the book under my chosen pen name be sufficient?—Al de Araujo A: The name H.G. Wells isn’t copyrighted. Neither is Michael Crichton. Why? Under U.S. law you can’t copyright a name, real or fictitious. Copyrights protect authorship, such...

Can I Use Song Lyrics in my Manuscript?

Q: What are the legal ramifications of reproducing song lyrics in a manuscript? If permission from each copyright holder is necessary, what’s the best way to secure these permissions? Also, can I use a song title as the title of my book?—June Youngblood A: Song lyrics are copyrighted, which means you need permission to...

Using Famous Names and Proper Nouns in Fiction

Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of professional sports teams, TV networks or real people (e.g., the Los Angeles Dodgers, FOX Network or Rupert Murdoch)?—Jeff Stanger A: If your character is a Dodgers fan or loves watching FOX news or happens to walk past Rupert Murdoch on...