Writing your book: a 5 minute guide to copyright

Francine O’Sullivan, Publisher for Business & Management, explains how to avoid some of the common copyright pitfalls when preparing your manuscript.

Copyright can be a murky and complicated issue. In our experience, by far the most common reasons to delay the production and publication of a book relate to copyright issues or, more explicitly, authors and contributors failing/struggling to clear copyright for any material that has been published elsewhere. As another publisher once said ‘hell hath no fury like a copyright holder scorned’ and no-one wants to be in a situation where they are facing this wrath, having inadvertently used copyrighted material without permission.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I thought it would be useful if we posted a few of the most commonly asked questions in relation to copyright and permissions alongside our own responses. Despite the fact we publish a lot of books on copyright, none of us at EE are copyright lawyers. We are, however, naturally more experienced than we would like to be in dealing with copyright issues.

Please consult your commissioning editor if you have any queries about copyright but we hope this list will be useful as a first port of call.

Best wishes

Francine O’Sullivan
Publisher, Business and Management

• How long does copyright last?
In the UK and the US copyright lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years. If a book is published in 2017, any material published before 1923 is likely to be copyright free. In our context, copyright basically protects any material that may be printed in a book taken from another source, whether that be prose, figures, tables, photographs, poetry, lyrics, illustrations.

• What does ‘In the Public Domain’ mean?
This usually means material for which the copyright has expired. Some organisations make their material freely available ‘in the public domain’ and it should be made clear in the material that this is the case. However, not everything that is publicly available is in the public domain. You should, for instance, assume that anything on the Internet is protected by copyright unless the website expressly informs the reader the material is in the public domain.

• Surely I can reuse any material under the fair dealing/fair use rule in an academic book?
Fair dealing/fair use is a difficult convention to pin down. According to the UK Intellectual Property office, ‘Fair dealing for criticism, review or quotation is allowed for any type of copyright work. Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of reporting current events is allowed for any type of copyright work other than a photograph. In each of these cases, a sufficient acknowledgement will be required.’ In practice, much depends on the source material and the quantity and type of the material you wish to use. The fair dealing/fair use rule should only be applied to academic material for the purpose of academic critique and comment. Non-academic material, such as song lyrics or poetry, is not covered by fair use, invariably requires permission and usually incurs a fee. Figures and tables are also excluded from the fair dealing/fair-use rule.

So you have identified that your source material is academic and doesn’t contain figures and tables but you still may not be off the hook. As a rule of thumb, permission to reproduce from academic material is generally required if a quoted extract exceeds 400 words, or a collection of extracts exceed 800 words. The new material should not become a substitute for the original, or make the purchase of the original copyrighted work unnecessary. The citation should encourage the reader to seek out the original material, its use shouldn’t make reading the original redundant. Fair-dealing/fair-use can be complicated and permission should be sought from the original publisher as well as the author(s) of any published material if in doubt. Of course, quotes should be clearly attributed and a full reference given to the original material.

• What if the material I wish to use is already Open Access?
Simply because work has been made freely accessible to readers does not mean that copyright has been waived, or that the work is in the public domain. Permission should still be sought just as for any other published work.

• What if the material I wish to use is covered by a Creative Commons licence?
There are different types of Creative Commons licence and you should check very carefully before proceeding. For example, a common form is ‘BY-NC-ND’ which means ‘attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives’. Using this material in a new published book is a commercial use and therefore permission would be required in the normal manner.

• I have requested permission to use material published elsewhere but the publisher has denied permission to reproduce/wants to charge me a fee. What should I do?
It is the author’s responsibility to seek written permission for any work in copyright and also to settle any fees which may arise as a result of this.

If permission is refused or the fee charged is unreasonably high you may wish to appeal against the decision by writing again to the copyright holder and the author of the work. However, if your application is ultimately unsuccessful you have no alternative but to remove the material from your chapter/book.

• Do I need to clear copyright for a figure or table originally published elsewhere? If I adapt or make a small change to the figure or table do I need to clear permission?
Permission is required for any tables, diagrams or illustrations copied from published sources, which includes material posted on the internet and screenshots. They are excluded from the fair dealing/fair use rule and publishers may charge for their reuse. Original tables and figures with information drawn from other sources do not need permission but sources must be acknowledged.

One can use the original data to draw a new figure but if the new figure is very similar to the previously published figure then permission should be sought. Acknowledgement of the source, author and publisher must be made under or near to the figure/table. Common sense can be often be applied here. If you originally published a figure or table that bears a remarkable resemblance to that published by someone else in a new publication, would you expect permission to be requested and for your version to be cited?

• I took the image from the Internet, where it is freely available. Surely this means I don’t need to clear copyright for it?
Usually you do need to apply for permission to reuse information sources from the Internet. The Internet is subject to the same copyright laws as printed works.  It is also quite possible that websites have re-used material under copyright themselves, either with or without permission, and so it cannot be assumed that the website owner /author is the copyright holder. Information can usually be found to this effect on the small print of the website. Please assume that permission needs to be sought unless you are explicitly informed otherwise.

• Do I need permission to re-use any photographs?
Perhaps. Photographs can be particularly problematic. Permission may be required from the original photographer, the owner of the photograph, anyone who is in the image and the owner of any private building, object or artwork in the photograph before including it. An acknowledgement must be made in the text below the photograph.

Even if you took the photograph yourself, permission may be required from the subject or the owner of the subject before it is included in a book. Photographs of famous people or people doing private activities are best avoided. For more information on visual artists’ rights management in the UK, please contact DACS. If the photograph you took is of another photograph or artwork then you may need permission unless the composition of the photograph itself can be reasonably argued to be unique (i.e. not just a photocopy/straight reproduction of the original).

• Do I need permission to use logos or trademarks that I am discussing in the text?
Sometimes. Trademarks and logos can come under fair use if you are using them for the purposes of reporting, commentary, criticism, and parody and there is no easier way to refer to the product. Trademarks and logos should not be used commercially to imply an endorsement of your product and ‘fair use’ cannot be used as a defense for using logos and trademarks if their use is defamatory or misleading. The law is not absolutely clear on this and the only way to be clear is to ask permission.

 If you are using company data, it should be verified with the company and its usage should be cleared with the appropriate authority from each company or other enterprise concerned. A health warning: businesses and institutions are usually slow to respond to this type of request so please seek to clear permission at an early stage.

For further information please see:

• How do I find the copyright owner?
For academic material this is often a simple process. Some permission requests may be handled through the Copyright Clearing Centre. Some journals include this information on their webpage or direct you to the person you need to approach. Please do also contact the authors of the material, not just the publisher. The publisher may be willing to contact the authors of the material on your behalf if you cannot find them.

• I really can’t find the copyright holder or they won’t respond. When can I give up?
Finding a copyright holder can be difficult with an older text, particularly if a company has been sold and copyright may have been transferred to the new company. However, you need to demonstrate a reasonable effort to find the copyright holder so some detective work may be required. Please do contact your commissioning editor if you need help tracing a copyright holder, we may have faced a similar problem before.

If a publisher doesn’t immediately respond to your initial letter, you cannot presume that you may proceed with using the material. You should ensure you have contacted the copyright holder and author by email or letter at least three times and keep a record of all attempts made to gain permission. If you still do not receive a response please approach your editor and our copyright department may be able to advise you. We cannot, however, apply for permission on your behalf.

• Permission has been granted [congratulations!], how should I acknowledge this?
Copyright acknowledgements should appear next to the item reproduced. Copyright holders often make the position and wording of the acknowledgement a condition of granting permission, so please follow their requirements carefully.

• Surely I don’t need permission to re-use my own work?
You may do. Please bear in mind that you are not necessarily free to publish a previously published piece of your own work again without consulting the original publisher. It may well be that your agreement with them grants the publisher an exclusive licence to print and distribute the work, which would therefore prohibit us from doing the same without express permission. You should refer to your original agreement to be sure but be sure to cite it correctly.

Publishers should grant permission to re-use your own work, potentially subject to an embargo period. Please note that some publishers charge a fee for use of your work in a book edited by a third party and a few publishers will charge for use of your own work in a book written or edited by yourself.

• What is self-plagiarism?
Self-plagiarism is defined as a form of plagiarism in which the writer republishes some or all of a piece of their own previously published work whilst authoring a new work, without appropriate acknowledgement. Plagiarism software can make self-plagiarism far easier to detect and recent examples abound of academics being held to account or persecuted for self-plagiarism and of careers being ruined as a result of it.

Academic books, by nature, build on previous work but it is imperative that the correct acknowledgements are used and appropriate permissions sought, where necessary, even when they refer to the author’s own work. Please check the re-use policy of any relevant publisher before evaluating whether you need to seek formal permission for any portion of text that has been published elsewhere and cite appropriately.

• I want to use my own work published in an Edward Elgar book elsewhere. Can I?
Usually. We are generally happy for your published work to be used in a journal articles or conference papers as long as it is cited correctly. Please do contact your commissioning editor if you plan to use the material in another book. Please cite Edward Elgar Publishing books along the lines of the following:

  • Ganesan, Shankar (ed.) (2012), Handbook of Marketing and Finance, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing

 Or for a chapter in an edited volume:

  • Ricketts, Martin (2006), ‘Economic regulation: principles, history and methods’, in Michael Crew and David Parker (eds), International Handbook on Economic Regulation, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 34–62

For any further questions or queries please contact your commissioning editor or there are many websites that offer excellent information:


Copyright Clearance Center

The Copyright Hub

Database of Writers, Artists & Their Copyright Holders (WATCH)

Digital Media Law Project

Michigan Tech Graduate School Copyright FAQs


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