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3 Common Legal Mistakes Nonfiction eBook Authors Make

By Intellectual Property, Internet Lawyer
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Do you make these legal mistakes with the ebooks you write?

Whether you’re writing for Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, or some other platform, there are three legal problems that you can easily avoid by taking a few simple steps.

Mistake # 1 – Failing to Register Your Copyright

Properly registering the copyright for your eBook with the U.S. Copyright Office ( provides you with several legal advantages in case a competitor or reader tries to rip off the content of your book.

For example, copyright registration enables you to sue for infringement to stop piracy plus provides the opportunity to pursue significant damages for infringement and reimbursement of your attorney fees.

Having these available to you adds some teeth to a cease-and-desist demand letter sent to a pirate even if you don’t actually plan to sue.

Mistake # 2 – Misusing Someone Else’s Copyrighted Material

Just as important as protecting your intellectual property is making sure that your e-book doesn’t infringe upon the copyrights owned by others. These types of infringement typically involve text and images.

Text and Fair Use

With regard to text, the concept of “fair use” is extremely vague. Some copyright owners don’t mind if you quote a paragraph or two with attribution. Others take the position that quoting even five words without permission constitutes infringement. Err on the side of caution by getting written permission from the copyright owner before “borrowing” text to put in your eBook.

Photos and Graphics

Images within an eBbook and  e-cover design are big concern too. You should assume until proven otherwise that graphics and photos you find online are owned by someone else. This means getting written permission to use those images in your eBook.

Chances are that the right to use an image inside your eBook or as an e-cover will cost you a small licensing fee. Make sure it’s clear what you’re buying. For example, some stock photography licensing sites charge more if you want to use an image in an eBook versus on a blog.

If you’ve hired someone to design your eBook cover, you’ll need two levels of protection. First, you’ll want to verify the source of any images used and whether there is a legal right for the designer to incorporate it into your eBook’s cover. Second, you’ll want your written independent contractor agreement with the cover designer to ensure the rights to the cover are assigned over to you.

This is a minefield because sometimes a designer will license the image to use in the designer’s business but the license doesn’t include a right for the designer to transfer the image rights to you as part of your eBook cover. A separate license to the image may be required.

Mistake # 3 – Forgetting to Put the Right Disclosures and Disclaimers in Your eBook

In addition to copyright information, it’s important to make mandatory disclosures and limit your liability exposure in nonfiction ebooks through disclaimers. An experienced Internet business lawyer can help you craft the right language for your eBook as well as address any copyright questions you have. Or, if you’re on a limited budget, you can choose to use a quality set of do-it-yourself templates instead.

For example, material connections to products and services you’re promoting in your eBook should be disclosed. If you’ve inserted affiliate links in your eBook, the reader should be informed of your affiliate status in order to make an informed buying decision. Without such a disclosure, the reader might mistakenly assume that your motive for making a recommendation was not motivated in part by income.

Nondisclosure of material connections can lead to trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and consumer protection divisions of states’ attorneys general.

Your eBook’s disclaimers can reduce the risk you’ll be sued because of what you’ve written. The content of such disclaimers will vary depending upon the subject matter of your eBook. For example, an eBook about diabetes will have different disclaimers than one written about making money online through blogging.


The Great Website Photos Shakedown That’s Perfectly Legal

By Intellectual Property

stock photograhy copyright infringementEver found a fantastic photo that you really wanted to post on your website?

Unless the pic is in the public domain or shared with a copyleft license (e.g. Creative Commons), chances are there’s a copyright owner for the photo whose permission (preferably in writing) you’re going to need to obtain before using the pic on your site.

But how do you track down the owner of the pic on the Internet? You can use a service like as a starting point but that’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find the true copyright owner.

Because it is so difficult to find the copyright owners for many photos online, many website owners mistakenly use the pics on their own sites without permission.

And that’s where the photo copyright infringement shakedown comes into play.

Here’s what happens…

There are professional photographers and stock photo companies that make most of their money by threatening shakedown lawsuits for copyright infringement against website owners who use their pics without permission. If you are using one of their photos on your site without paying a licensing fee, you’re likely to receive an email or a snail mail letter claiming infringement.

They will demand a fee of $3,000 to $10,000 to settle their claim of infringement. If you refuse to pay, they will threaten to sue you for copyright infringement and seek $150,000 per infringement plus payment of their legal fees and court costs.

The goal of this demand is to shake you down for thousands of dollars because it is still a lot less expensive than being sued and likely losing.

Frankly, it’s legal but a sleazy way of doing business.

So what should you do to avoid this type of copyright infringement shakedown in the first place?

Before using a photo on your site, be sure to ensure that:

(1) the pic is in the public domain,
(2) has a copyleft license that you comply with; or
(3) you get permission from the copyright owner to use it.

The easiest way to get permission is to pay a licensing fee to a reputable stock photo agency for use of the pic. The fee you will pay will typically depend upon the resolution of the photo and where you intend to use the pic. For example, a low resolution image for use on a blog will cost less than a high resolution image you plan to include in printed marketing materials.

Where possible, avoid doing business with those who focus on shakedown threats instead of licensing images as their way of making money online. Don’t reward bad behavior that preys upon mistakes.

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