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Literary Law Guide for Authors 85

Posted by timothy
from the even-ones-in-utah dept.
Logic Bomb writes "Everyone's favorite way to begin a post on Slashdot is 'IANAL, but...' Having said that a few times myself, when I saw this book I figured it might be nice to get at least a little formal information on what the heck I was writing about. Literary Law Guide for Authors was not quite what I was looking for, but it was extremely informative." Read on for Logic Bomb's review.
Literary Law Guide for Authors: Copyright, Trademark, and Contracts in Plain Language
author Tonya Marie Evans and Susan Borden Evans
pages 190
publisher FYOS Entertainment
rating Excellent
reviewer Logic Bomb
ISBN 0967457963
summary A practical guide to copyright and trademark law

The content of the book really is as the title claims. It is a practical explanation of legal concepts, written by practicing lawyers. It is not a theoretical exploration, it is not a detailed history, and it is most definitely not criticism. The primary audience is writers who want a good understanding of the law before getting involved with the publishing industry or attempting to self-publish. The writing itself is beautifully concise and precise. Given the topic, there are passages that require long lists of examples and distinctions to maintain accuracy. If you have never encountered thorough legal writing before, it can be a bit daunting.

Literary Law Guide begins by explaining copyright in great depth. In this book, that only means 10 pages. But the table of contents for that section alone lists the following:

  • Protecting Ideas
  • When Copyright Ownership Begins
  • Showing the World That You Own Your Work
  • What a Copyright Owner Has the Right to Do
  • Scope of Copyright Protection
  • The Elements of Copyrightable Works
  • Copyright Registration
  • How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work
  • Where to Search for Information about Registered Copyrights
  • Transfer of Copyright
  • Reclaiming Your Copyright After Transfer
Further sections consider fair use, work for hire, copyright infringement (an important topic for Slashdot), and the complications of registering copyright for online works. The latter section even lists the rules for what portions of source code must be submitted to register copyright on software.

That's only the first half of the book's text. Trademark gets the next 30 pages. Once again the authors provide thorough explanations of concepts and actual legal procedures. The final section is on contracts. Given the book's nature, it's really about publishing contracts for writers, but the information is still useful.

The book includes a CD with a handful of Copyright and Trademark Office forms in PDF and Word files of sample publishing contracts. These materials are also printed over 90 pages in the book itself. With the exception of the contracts, this is fairly superfluous. The forms are all readily available online.

Overall, Literary Law Guide has value for several segments of the Slashdot readership. Programmers, especially those working independently, can gain invaluable information on the available means for protecting or profiting from their work. Those interested in Free content (not just software) can better understand issues surrounding licensing and the public domain. Everyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of the issues we spend so much time discussing.

Perhaps because it is targeted towards the world of traditional writing, Literary Law Guide may leave a Slashdot reader unsatisfied at the coverage of digital-age issues. However, I think the fault for that really lies with a legal structure that is, as we all know, far behind the times. A book on the law can only cover what law there is. As the authors put it, in what may be the greatest understatement on this issue I've seen:

In light of this twenty-first century reality, some scholars believe that the law lags far behind in closing the gap between yesterday's statutes and tomorrow's technology.

The final recommendation: if you want to know more about copyright and trademark than you'll easily discover using Google, this book is for you.


You can purchase Literary Law Guide for Authors: Copyright, Trademark, and Contracts in Plain Language from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Literary Law Guide for Authors

Comments Filter:
  • Copyright (Score:5, Funny)

    by mopslik (688435) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:26PM (#7302010)

    Literary Law Guide begins by explaining copyright in great depth.

    I agree. I downloaded the book off of Kazaa and thought the whole discussion concerning copyrights was well done.

    • As an author of a book I'm about to self-publish, this is my reason I chose not to get my hard work published as an ebook. Too easy to get ripped off. I would love to see how you would defend the theft of my work. I'm a little guy with no big book company behind me and it took me five years of my hard work and life.
      • I would love to see how you would defend the theft of my work.

        I wouldn't. There's a reason the post was modded "funny".

  • by yerricde (125198) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:32PM (#7302083) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to see an analogous "Music Law Guide for Songwriters". Which of these books [starvingartistslaw.com] or any other book do people recommend? Until I get some hard facts on how to avoid George Harrison's mistake (Bright Tunes v. Harrisongs), the guide I wrote [slashdot.org] suggests: Don't.

  • Patents (Score:2, Informative)

    by DeadVulcan (182139)

    Programmers, especially those working independently, can gain invaluable information on the available means for protecting or profiting from their work.

    It should be noted that this leaves out entirely the third pillar of the great IP law triumvirate: patents - which often get confused with copyright by laypeople.

    BTW, I am one of those laypeople... but perhaps just slightly less confused than some others.

    • Authors of prose typically do not run into patents except in technical writing, and I'm guessing technical writing has its own set of law guides.

  • by Otter (3800) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:33PM (#7302101) Journal
    I read Slashdot for important cutting edge legal theory like:
    • If you make something into an MP3, it automatically receives 1st Amendment protection against any copyright, trademark, contract or national security classification you would otherwise be violating.
    • Everything is parody of something, and is therefore invariably legal.
    • Don't ask us! Get a lawyer!
    It seems to be that readership armed with actual facts and knowledge could only diminish this wellspring of creativity we've built here...
  • by r.future (712876)
    I heard os something called a "poor man's copy right" where a non published author takes a copy of his/her writing and puts in a self address stamped envelope and mails it to him/her self. The post office will stap the date that the envelope was snet on the envelope. Upon receiving the now dated writing in the mail the author should put it into a safety deposit box.

    The thory here being that if someone steals the authors un-copyrighted work the author should be able to sue the thief and use th the date
    • This is a myth - check #6 here:

      http://www.sfwa.org/beware/copyright.html
    • The post office will stap the date that the envelope was snet on the envelope.

      Can you prove that the envelope was sealed when it was mailed?
      • Can you prove that the envelope was sealed when it was mailed?

        Yep...

        Put the address on the wrong side of your envelope, and the stamp across the envelope's seal. It will be quite obvious whether or not the seal was in place before the postmark was applied.

    • This sort of happened in the movie Quiz Show (and indeed in real life), one of the contestants sent himself the answers registered mail. It was deemed admissable in court.

      Here's the guy's testimony [gmu.edu].

      I assume this sets a precedent for dates to be established this way and would cover copyright.
    • It might work. However a registered copyright is cheap, IIRC $25 + a copy to the Library of Congress. (This was 10 years ago, law has changed) At that price, if think you might need to prove latter that you wrote something, then just get a do-it-yourself copyright kit from the local book store and register your copyright in a form that is fully binding in court.

      As for it might work: I've heard of it working and of it not working. There are a lot of details to get right. If you just want protection fro

      • Moreover, even registration is not necessary unless (and until) you intend to sue somebody. Copyright is automatic for all copyrightable works, unless they're explicitly released into the public domain, and the only thing immediate registration gets you is an official record of the date of the work's creation...and with copyright being effectively perpetual these days, I don't see how that matters much either.
        • If you register a copyright, when you create something, you can sue for more damages. IANAL, but essentially you get not only the money they made selling your work, but also an extra amount. Check with a lawyer.

          An official registration is very useful when you want to sue. If you register something you don't have to latter prove you created it, one defense of copyright violation could be that who didn't create it, but copied the work of the violator, it can be hard to defend against this. (Likely a rare

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Logic Bomb writes "Everyone's favorite way to begin a post on Slashdot is 'IANAL

    Actually, the favorite way to begin a post on Slashdot is "I ANAL"

    I'm afraid to hazard a guess as to what they mean.
  • by SPYvSPY (166790) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:49PM (#7302269) Homepage
    ...read the same books that law students read in law school. Stop looking for shortcuts; there aren't any. Reading slashdot is insanely frustrating for me because the level of ignorance about the law is appalling. It is not that hard to pick up a respectable law review (those are journals of legal analysis--available in libraries and (no kidding!) online) and read an article about the topic you are interested in. Slashdot people are reasonably intelligent, and can learn things like new programming languages. I don't see why you can't decypher the law--which is pretty straightforward in most cases. Stop treating the newspaper, this website (and pretty all other websites with a very few exceptions) as your gospel for legal issues.

    There is so much disinformation and FUD about the law online that you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't educate yourself from the sources that truly understand the law. Go get a law school curriculum and buy a few of the books. Read them. It's not that hard. Stop looking for shortcuts.
    • by ed.han (444783) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:58PM (#7302352) Journal
      but, but, but...if we stop spreading FUD about the law, what will we do for posts around here?!

      OK, sorry; i'm sure this'll get modded redundant in 0.3 nanoseconds but i just couldn't help it.

      ed
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Reading slashdot is insanely frustrating for me because the level of ignorance about the law is appalling.

      Well to be honest, I've tried just what you said some time ago and to be honest, reading legal texts is insanely frustrating for programmers, because the level of chaos that comes about when non-programmers try to write a listing, in human language no less, it very quickly becomes a mess.

      It's like one long list of if/then/else causes, sometimes a switch/case, but all in all very little genericity,

    • ...which is pretty straightforward in most cases. ...

      Odd. I've been told (by laywers teaching my paralegal classes) that the law is rife with exceptions, collalaries, and special instances, and so while the general rules are easy to learn, applying them can be difficult.

      So difficult, in fact, that we pay a special class of professionals to do so. ;)

      At any rate, don't you think that a specific publication aimed at an audience as an introduction is a good thing? Law journals are written for lawyers, and
    • by yaar (680953)
      we do the code, you do the code - err, law. if an attorney can write software, great, but it's not reasonable to expect it. reality is, we non-lawyers bitch and moan, leaving it up to the ambulance chasers to make a case of it. as long as law intersects with tech, techies are going to continue commenting. according to the reviewer, who i assume is a tech, this book explains the law as it relates to copyright, which i doubt first year law texts even cover in depth. thanks but no thanks.
    • Part of the reason people don't do this is because if you want to understand something that is, as you say, "pretty straightforward in most cases," a nice summary is much more useful than plowing through law school curriculum, a process that could easily take many years for someone who is also trying to earn a living writing. I do like the idea of consulting a law review, if it's easy to find good reviews that will bring a layperson up to speed on the basics in a given area. But although I agree that trea
    • It is not that hard to pick up a respectable law review [...] and read an article about the topic you are interested in.

      You're telling me unlike every other discipline I know of, a law journal is comprehensable to the outsider?

      Go get a law school curriculum and buy a few of the books.

      To understand the rules that govern me, I should invest hundreds of dollars in books? Something's screwed up here, and it's not the people who don't want to have to study the law.
    • A good shortcut that's much easier than reading law school casebooks is do what law students do: buy legal outlines, nutshells, audio tapes, hornbooks (ok maybe not hornbooks), etc. for the subjects you're interested in. The authors of them condense law and legal precedent into an organized and easy to follow book. Legal textbooks are terrible for learning the law because they're *designed* to confuse you.
    • IANAL, neither am I a coder. I found Catherine Crier's book "The Case Against Lawyers" to be an understandable (to us mere mortals) treatise on what is dysfunctional in our legal/political system. She also suggests some patches to make the system more user friendly, secure, and reliable. Read that as more understandable to laymen, resistant to hacking by the powerful, rich, and connected, and more consistent in providing justice to each of us. Existing legal tomes are about as comprehensible as MS spaghe
    • Hey, I remember an exchange with you in the past where you said something funny, and I put in my sig (see below). You also made some valid point about the topic, which I can't recall now. Anyway, I wanted to get in touch with you now because I'm considering a law degree and was hoping for some pointers. Your email address is hidden, so I'm stuck posting this reply and looking like a bit of a tool. :-) Anyway, you can email me at steveh (at) amnesiac.net

      Thanks.
    • Your comment wreaks with arrogance. I especially found the following retort absolutely riveting:


      Slashdot people are reasonably intelligent, and can learn things like new programming languages. I don't see why you can't decypher the law--which is pretty straightforward in most cases.

      Learning a programming language is equivalent to learning any foreign language one uses for oral communication. The level of competence is directly proportional to quality and correct usage the language can provide.

      It's

  • I read the whole article to find out what IANAL means, and I still don't know, so WHAT'S IT MEAN, please.

    This means I Am Not A Lawyer (IANAL).
    It does not mean "IANAL - I am Near Alabama, so Yankees can filter posts easier." as some have suggested bcolflesh (710514)

    Neither does it mean I Abuse Non-informative Acronyms Liberally

    New question, Is there any way of filtering out posts from those near Alabama (or any states like IOWA, Ohio etc)?
  • Literary Law Guide for Authors was not quite what I was looking for [...]
    Had you used Amazon's new full text search and preview, this would not have happened.
  • The fundamental problem is that to defend your rights, you need money. It doesn't matter what the law is.

    I was recently in a situation where I was slapped with a cease and desist order for something which was perfectly within my legal rights. I could cite extensive case law demonstrating that I was within my rights, and that I was not infringing on anyone else's rights.

    But in the end, it came down to the fact that I was being slapped by a company with money, and I can't afford the lawyers. There's not money in it for the lawyers, so they won't do it on a contingent basis. It's much, much too small a case for an organization like the EFF.

    So I end up being screwed. The simple fact is that law is irrelevant if you can't afford the lawyers to enforce it.

    • The simple fact is that law is irrelevant if you can't afford the lawyers to enforce it.

      If you get slapped with a lawsuit like that, and genuinely cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to have one appointed for you--even in a civil matter.

      You can also purchase legal insurance, or if worst comes to worst, represent yourself.

    • " I could cite extensive case law demonstrating that I was within my rights, and that I was not infringing on anyone else's rights."

      then there was no reason you couldn't have defended yourself.

      You could have also looked for a lawyer that will do pro bono work.

      In some circumstance, you can get one appointed to you.

      The fact is, you LET yourself get screwed.
    • Um, stop talking about "the lawyers" in the abstract and get to know a lawyer or two. Include a lawyer among your circle of friends. Buy a beer for a lawyer. Tell a lawyer that he or she can call you at 4:00 A.M. and you will be happy to support his or her Windows problem du jour. If you can't find a lawyer to befriend find a law student. Hell, date one.
  • He didn't include in newly required link so that we could all purchase the book through him so he'd get a commission. Come on people if you review a book remember to throw up a quicky Amazon link so you get a commission.

    1. Write Book Review.
    3. Add link to personal home page.
    3. Post Review on Slashdot.
    4. Make $.02 in comission from all the slashdot sales.

  • not a single word that this book is about US law. Only US law. Nothing else. A law that is notably different from other laws the international readership of Slashdot may be working under.

  • ...some scholars believe that the law lags far behind...

    The author called us Scholars!!! Woohooo!!

  • I understood the writing game well enough, or thought I did until one of my series sold to TV. Then I learned the hard way that neither I, nor my literary agent, was equipped to play in this ballpark. One little phrase that had special meaning only in the TV business cost me all of my per show royalties. I'll know better next time, but it was one hell of a costly lesson.

Possessions increase to fill the space available for their storage. -- Ryan

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