Authors are increasingly relying on the Internet as their main resource when writing books; however, many new authors are not aware of the legal implications of freely using text, photos, and graphics from the Internet.
Infringing on someone's copyright is illegal, and authors who do this expose themselves to possible lawsuits and forced removal of their books from the market. It can be expensive, troublesome, and embarrassing.
Let me outline a few of the basic principles involved in Canadian copyright law.
- In Canada, all published material is automatically copyrighted.
- Some authors mistakenly think they can copy material that does not have a copyright sign. The owner does not have to indicate that his or her work is copyrighted. Both printed and Internet material is protected by copyright law.
- Acknowledging the source of quoted material does not allow you to quote that material.
- The belief among some authors and publishing companies that it is permissible to quote text of fewer than 50 words is not true. It doesn't matter whether you quote only a few sentences, or whole paragraphs; the work is still copyrighted. What counts is the significance of the words in the particular work quoted.
- The only way you can safely quote from someone's work (or use his or her photos or graphics) is to get permission. This, however, may not be successful unless the copyright owner sees some advantage in it, for example, receiving a fee or publicity for his or her website or book.
There are several exceptions to these rules and ways of getting around them. This would be something to discuss with your editor as the two of you work on the manuscript.
It is common for me to receive a manuscript from an eager author who is hoping to quickly have the work edited and off to the Printer. I then have to inform him or her that photos and text copied from the Internet cannot be used as is. If the borrowing is extensive, major rewrites may be necessary, or we may have to wait for copyright owners to get back to us with their permission or not. Another source of delay is having to hunt down quotes and photos because the author has forgotten where they came from.
If you are about to write a book, I suggest that you keep a log with detailed source information on all material used in the manuscript, whether it's from books or material retrieved from the Internet—and then give it to the editor along with the unedited manuscript. You will save yourself time, editing fees, and a lot of trouble.
The above information does not constitute legal advice, but rather general editing information.