One of many advantages of self-publishing your book is that it offers you the ability to control the writing process and all the steps that follow. However, it also means that ‘the buck stops with you’, as you are responsible for ensuring your book does not violate any legislation such as copyright laws. You can easily circumvent potential problems by making some wise choices while you are drafting your manuscript. Every country has its own laws that apply to book publishing, but there are similar standards around the world.

In this article, we’ll explore Australian laws that relate to copyright regulations for authors in more detail, including how to protect your own written work and avoid infringing on anyone else’s intellectual property.

What is copyright? 

Copyright recognises and protects the intellectual property (IP) in a creative work, including written words, that someone produces. In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) automatically covers text, photos, illustrative artwork and music (among other forms of creative work) for the lifespan of the person who produced it, plus 70 years after their death. (Depending on the type of creative work, there are some variations to this ruling, but this is the criteria that mostly applies to writers.) This means other people cannot copy, adapt, perform or publish your creative work (even online) without your written permission until 70 years after you die. Likewise, you cannot do the same thing to another writer’s or artist’s work.

How can you protect your written words and avoid infringing on other creatives’ IP?

Possibly you’ve come across a quote or phrase in a poem or song that you’d like to incorporate in your book? You may think it is fair game to do so because those words are well-known in the public sphere; however, this is an incorrect assumption. Your written content is protected by copyright law and so are other writers’ texts. As an author, it is important for you to be aware of copyright law because it will help you to not only deal with other people’s copyrighted material correctly, but also protect your own.

Even when you paraphrase another writer’s content, you may still need to obtain their written permission to use their IP for your own commercial gain. There are a couple of provisions within copyright law that may allow the use of someone else’s work, but they are very specific. The best practice is to share the relevant passages with the original author and request their written permission to use them in your book.

Red alert regarding song lyrics!

Songwriters, in particular, are very protective of their creative content, and copyright laws reflect their desire to restrict free use of their lyrics in books. If you feel it is vital to include a quote from a song, the best option is to write to the musician to seek their permission. They will want to know the context of how their words will be used and could potentially charge you a hefty fee to grant permission to use their original content.

In light of these considerations, you might want to rethink including song lyrics in your book due to the associated costs and the delay involved while you apply for written permission.

Online content isn’t freely available for anyone to use

As well as copyright ownership in relation to written text, you need to ensure there are no legal restrictions on any graphics (such as diagrams, graphs, charts and maps), photographs and illustrative artwork included in your book. You cannot just copy images from the internet and then use them in your book. Firstly, you need to find out whether an image is protected by copyright law or if it truly is in the public domain.

Even if someone else has reproduced an image on their website, that does not excuse you from making the same error in judgement. Instead, you can purchase royalty-free images from stock image companies or download images from sites that offer public domain or Creative Commons content (as long as you closely follow their guidelines for giving the artist credit). For more helpful information and fact sheets about copyright, check out the Australian Copyright Council website.