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ALLi Insights: Legal Essentials For Authors With Helen Sedwick Video & Podcast

ALLi Insights: Legal Essentials for Authors with Helen Sedwick Video & Podcast

ALLi Insights Event Banner for July Helen SedwickIn this month’s How-to for Authors, Orna chatted with Helen Sedwick to discuss self-publishing legal essentials. Helen uses simple terms and easy to follow language to empower authors and set them up for success.

Mention “legal” and many authors run for the hills. But, if you’re an Indie Authors who self-publishes you need to know your rights and understand copyright.

How to Protect your Author Rights and your Wallet

Writers should not be losing money and sleep by signing on with the publishing company or getting sued for copyright infringement. With the right information, writers can protect their rights and their wallets.

Helen is a non-fiction author and historical novelist, and also a California attorney representing small businesses and entrepreneurs. Who better to add some clarity around copyright and author’s rights?

The YouTube video and SoundCloud podcast recordings are at the end of the article, but here’s a sneak peak at some of the topics covered:

Copyright: Did you know?

  • As soon as you create your book in a tangible form it becomes your piece of property and it’s automatically copyright protected
  • Although you can register your copyright, it’s not mandatory.
  • Copyright lasts a Lifetime+70 years
  • Generally, titles can’t be copyrighted (because they’re too short), and you can’t copyright a story concept or stereotypical character or setting

Content Rights & Licensing: Did you know?

  • Self-Publishers should avoid granting “Exclusive Worldwide Rights”
  • When you assign rights it’s advisable to break them down into small segments and negotiate the rights to those smaller segment only:
    • Format (Audio, ebooks and Print) and Territory
  • Avoid assigning rights “in perpetuity”. Protect your rights with a Reversion clause and a right “terminate at will”.
  • If a self-publishing service contract doesn’t stipulate that you can terminate the agreement .. this should be a red flag.

Reading your Author Contract: Did you know?

  • If you start at the beginning of your author contract, you’ll run out of steam and enthusiasm before you get to the important parts of the contract.
  • It’s best to scan through your author contract to a few key sections:
    • Ones containing these terms: Grant of Rights, Licence, Ownership, Termination
  • These sections will define what you are granting rights too and how you can get out of the contract.
  • If the author contract is part of a self-publishing service, check what it costs to buy your own books from them. A general rule of thumb is that if your purchase cost is 3x the print cost this should be a red flag.

Law is a tool. Don’t get intimidated. Just break it down word by word and approach the contract one step at a time.

Monitoring Copyright Infringement: Did you know?

  • You can set up a Google Alert to monitor the appearance of your book online. Track a sentence or two in the middle to end of your book to see who’s posting a copy online.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for what was covered in Helen’s ALLi Insights, she expands on the topics above and covers your rights to use real people in your books and rights to privacy.

Don’t be one of those authors running for the hills. Stand your ground and know your rights.

Legal Essentials for Authors Video

Legal Essentials for Authors Podcast

ALLi Insights Guest Speaker

Helen Sedwick Lawyer and Author headshotWriter and lawyer Helen Sedwick has thirty years of experience representing businesses and entrepreneurs. When she self-published the novel COYOTE WINDS, she could find no handbook to help writers deal with the legal issues of self-publishing. So she wrote that book: Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. Her goal is to keep writers out of court and at their desks.

ForeWord Review gave her Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook Five Stars, calling it “one of the most valuable resources a self-publisher can own…well-written and authoritative yet unhampered by legalese.” Her blog coaches writers on everything from protecting copyrights to hiring freelancers to spotting scams.

Check Out: Helen Sedwick’s Legal Resource Page


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This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. Hi John, thanks for the thoughtful explanations. As a US based Entertainment lawyer I have been on both sides of the issue. I think you’ve given authors some really good info here. Best of luck in your literary endeavors!

  2. You have such a nice post, thanks for sharing such nice information with us publicly. You’ve composed decent post, I am going to bookmark this page, a debt of gratitude is in order for information. I really value your own particular position and I will make sure to return here.

  3. […] ALLi Insights: Legal Essentials for Authors with Helen Sedwick Video & Podcast: Mention “legal” and many authors run for the hills. But, if you’re an Indie Authors who self-publishes you need to know your rights and understand copyright. In this ALLi Insights, Orna chats with Helen Sedwick to discuss self-publishing legal essentials. […]

  4. In my novel, a young man with autism and severe mental retardation goes to his aunt’s house. She’s serving southern fried chicken. The young man loves it and keeps calling it KFC. Do I have to get permission from KFC to use their name? Thank you.

  5. I thought the podcast was excellent and I shall be ordering Helen’s book: Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook.

    I’ve written quite a few lyrics in my latest novel (set in the forties) and I know I’ll have to cut most of it and try to find who owns the copyright on some very obscure lyrics that my heroine sings. Hopefully, Helen’s book will point me in the right direction.

    Many thanks for posting this.

  6. I’m very glad I watched this podcast! I shall now remove some song lyrics I naively thought set the mood for a scene, but now realise could have been a costly mistake – and a line from a rather famous novel which again I thought pertinent. Yikes! Thank you Helen and Orna for highlighting these and other important copyright issues. I think you mentioned briefly that song titles are okay to use… Can you confirm that this is the case?

  7. I wonder if there are transcripts of this (and any previous) available? For those of us who are deaf or hard of hearing, it would be such a help.
    Many thanks.

  8. I haven’t had the chance to listen to the podcast yet, so maybe this is already answered, but…

    I have a problem with someone else selling my book in PDF on a Chinese website without my permission:

    http://www.aliexpress.com/item/How-to-Get-Good-Reviews-on-Amazon-A-Guide-for-Independent-Authors-Sellers/32354056908.html

    This seller seems to sell a lot of books in PDF at ultra low prices – not just mine.

    The site does have a form to fill in if you think your intellectual property rights are being violated, but it also asks for documents to prove your ownership. I did put in an assertion of copyright (C) when I published the book on Amazon, but since I never formally registered for copyright, I don’t have any obvious documentation to send them.

    Can you advise me how to proceed?

    1. Hi Theo, the dated copyright notice on your book is all the evidence you need. Make a PDF from the original and email that to them. If you don’t have such a notice on your books, then you should insert one. Hope that helps. And do check out the advice on the session, Helen is doing amazing work for authors. good Luck!

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