Pirating Really is Stealing

Graphic courtesy of openclipart.org.

I wish Facebook had a facepalm button.

Recently I was one of several people in a Facebook conversation with someone who said that while he understood copyright law, he nonetheless believed that intellectual property should never be copyrighted. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with pirating copyrighted work.

No matter how many times we tried to explain to this, “gentleman,” and I’m using the term loosely here, that pirating an artist’s work is actually stealing from the artist, he just didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, books, movies, and other creative works were merely ideas, and it was simply wrong to put a copyright on a idea.

Facebook seriously needs a bitch slap button as well.

So, while I’m not an attorney, and while my intention clearly isn’t to give anyone legal advice, I’m going to explain, in general terms, what pirating, and plagiarism really are, as the man was also unable to distinguish between the two.

Simply put, pirating means you are obtaining a copy of someone else’s creative work, such as a book, movie, or software program, in such a manner as to circumvent having to pay for it. Pirating isn’t limited to illegally downloading a book or a song off the Internet. Making hard copies of someone else’s creative work without their permission is also illegal. A good example might be a church photocopying songs from a single songbook so that each member of the choir has a copy, instead of purchasing enough books for the entire choir. Regardless of how the work is pirated, the end result is the artist who created the work it isn’t paid by the person using it. Would you expect your plumber, your doctor, or your dentist to work for free? Then why should an artist be expected to work for free?

Plagiarism, is another form of stealing. It means you are taking another artist’s work, putting your name on it, and then claiming the work as your own. This oftentimes applies to nonfiction, which is why most, if not all, scholarly works include footnotes and bibliographies. It’s also why our teachers and professors could give us a failing grade on a term paper if they determined that we did not properly credit the sources we used. There have also been some cases of plagiarism in music, when a riff used in a song may have sounded too much like a riff used in another published song.

Again, I’m speaking in generalities. For more specific information on copyrights, and fair use, you should consult a copyright attorney. The point is books, music, movies, photographs and other creative works must be either be purchased from the artist who created it, or from an authorized seller, such as Amazon or iTunes. Otherwise you risk paying a hefty fine, or even serving jail time if you get caught, and yes, people really do get caught. Pirating is stealing. Period.




Are You Including Photos in Your Book?

Photo Shoot Set
Photo by Gayle Martin

When one of my authors sent me the photos he wanted to include in his memoir, I noticed several of them were family portraits, taken by professional portrait studios. Many of you may not be aware that when you have a portrait done, the photographer, or the studio, owns the rights, even though the images may be of you, or members of your family. This means the photos cannot be used in a book without written permission of the copyright holders. My author was unaware of this, but, fortunately, was able to obtain release forms for the photos in question.

I’m not a copyright attorney, so the following isn’t meant to be taken as legal advice. It is, however, common knowledge and accepted business practices by publishers.

Prior to 1978, a copyright was good for twenty-eight years from the date of registration. Once it expired, it could be renewed for another twenty-eight years. After that the work was considered public domain. Then, in 1978, the law changed. Now a copyright lasts for the lifetime of the copyright holder, plus another seventy years after his or her death. This includes works of visual art, such as drawings, paintings, and photographs. So if you’re including photos, graphics, drawings or other works of art, either for your book cover, or inside your book, and they weren’t created by you, then you will need to get permission from the person who created the work before you can publish it.

So what about work you’ve commissioned for your book, such as a photo or illustration for your cover? Typically, there will be verbiage in the contract between you and the artist transferring certain rights over to you. Most often these rights are for the use of their work for the intended purpose, such as your book cover. Now let’s say you wanted to use their image for something else. For example, let’s say you published a cookbook, and you hired a photographer to take a photo of one of your dishes for your book cover. Then, later on, you decide to open a restaurant, and you want to include that same photograph on your menu. Never assume that just because you paid him for the photo, you’re free to use it any way that you wish. Putting his photo on your menu, without his knowledge or consent, might land you in some legal hot water. You need to go back to the photographer and get his permission to use his photo for your menu. Chances are, he’ll allow you to use it in exchange for a royalty. But he says no, then you cannot use it. Period.

For more information about copyrights, or to discuss a specific case, please consult a copyright attorney.



“Fan” Fiction and Copyrighted Characters–Treading on Thin Ice

Photo by Can Stock Photo.

I had an interesting chat with another author at the recent Wild Wild Western Convention. He told me about a writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some “fan fiction” he had written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The story went that the writer had written a very adult Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

I remember when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and, as I seem to recall, one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or “Trekkies,” as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. Of course, back then times were different. Authors wrote their fan fiction in conventional paper notebooks, so very few people probably ever read them. Traditional publishing, be it a book or magazine, was the only option at that time, so permission would have had to been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it’s probably very tempting for the amateur writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or to post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I’m not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it’s pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Most of us who write fiction probably model our characters on people we know, or perhaps we base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should be very loosely modeled with plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. If Captain Kirk is your inspiration, then give your character a different age, background, physical description, or even change the race, ethnicity or gender. Above all else, be sure he, or she, has a completely different name. But if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, make sure you get permission first. Even if you’re not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.

My tip for the day,