Copyrights

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...

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...

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...

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...

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)...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...