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Registering Trademarks and Copyrights in Book Publishing Deals

Once an author lands a book deal, negotiations begin. Typically, these negotiations start with a preliminary discussion between the author and the publisher about the terms of the book publishing contract. The publisher then memorializes the details of that discussion in a memo. This memo generally includes details about the grants, royalties, and any options for future books. Then, the publisher drafts the contract based on their standard book publishing contract.

There are many terms and clauses in the standard book deal that need to be renegotiated and redrafted to be more favorable for the author. These negotiations are done by the publisher and the author’s literary agent or lawyer. Most often, the author’s literary agent or lawyer will review the contract and make changes called redline edits. The publisher will then review these changes and decide whether it accepts them or not. Typically, this process will go back and forth for a couple rounds until both sides are happy with the deal.

This series informs authors, literary agents, lawyers, publishers, and other interested readers about the basics of book deals. It provides tactics and tips to be used when negotiating a book deal. It consists of four parts that cover negotiating the following topics:

  1. Registering Trademarks and Copyrights
  2. Exclusivity and the Grant of Rights
  3. Subsidiary Rights
  4. Other Important Rights

Check back each week for the newest post or subscribe to the newsletter on bobbydesmond.com to get it sent directly to your email inbox.


Once a book is finished, an author may be curious as to whether he or she should register the copyrights and trademarks in his or her book, title, and cover design. This post discusses how the book publishing contract regulates copyrights and trademarks. It provides authors, agents, lawyers, and publishers with tips and tactics for negotiating who is responsible for registering trademarks and copyrights.

Copyright Registration

Generally, books are creative works that are protected by copyright law simply by being written. There is no requirement that an author register the copyright in a book. However, authors can seek additional protections and advantages by registering the copyright in their book before submitting their book to publishers. For example, an author that registers the copyright in his or her book can obtain statutory damages and attorney’s fees in federal court. Registration is also seen as prima facie evidence of copyright ownership, if the case does go to court.

Alternatively, the author may choose to rely on the publisher to submit the copyright registration. This does not fully protect the author against the possibility that the book may be plagiarized by a beta reader, editor, publisher, its employees, or some other party that has access to the work before publication. Nor does it protect the author against the possibility that the publisher may forget or fail to properly register the copyright in the book. In such instances, the author will only be able to seek actual damages and profits (excluding attorneys’ fees) which will likely be much less than if the copyright was registered by the author ahead of time.

As many writing blogs point out, it is not necessary for an author to copyright his or her manuscript before sending it out to agents or publishers. Your book is already protected just by being fixed in a tangible medium – in other words, by being written. Hopefully, there is little to no chance that your book will be plagiarized by the friends you ask to read your manuscript or reputable agents and publishers. However, there is a chance that the work could be infringed, and $35 is a small price to pay for piece of mind.

Copyright registration is an easy process, but authors may seek an attorney to complete the registration process properly. Those authors that do choose to copyright their manuscript should beware of online registration services that charge exorbitant fees or suggest paying extra for unnecessary certificates of ownership. Likewise, authors should avoid falling for the myth of the “poor man’s copyright.” Sending yourself a a copy of your manuscript in the mail and keeping the envelope unopened as evidence that you wrote the manuscript before the postmarked date is not a protection recognized by the copyright statute or by U.S. courts.

Trademark Registration

On the other hand, the title and cover design of the book may also be protected by trademark registration and trade dress rights. Typically, authors will not register trademark in their work before publication. Instead, the publisher’s in-house team will register these rights for the author.

In the event that an author does wish to trademark his or her work, such as an author who self publishes, a trademark attorney should be consulted, as the trademark registration process is more difficult and legally technical than the copyright registration process. A trademark attorney can provide authors with a thorough search of the Trademark Electronic Search System and relevant case law to advise an author on the likelihood that their title or cover design will receive protection.

A trademark attorney can also counsel authors on what classes their works should be registered under. Typically, authors will want to register under Class 16 which covers paper and printed products such as books. There may be other applicable classes such as Class 9 which protects audiobooks among other relevant products. In addition to being more confusing than copyright registration, trademark registration is also more expensive. The filing fees alone cost between $225-$400 per class.

Registration by the Publisher

Many authors will decide to postpone copyright registration and allow their publisher to complete the registration process in-house. If the author plans to rely on the publisher to register the copyrights or trademarks in the book, title, and cover, then the book publishing contract should include a clause which states that it is the publisher’s responsibility to do so in the author’s name but at the publisher’s expense before publication.

Separately, the author should ask the publisher to agree to indemnify the author, in case the publisher forgets or fails to properly register the copyrights or trademarks in the book, title, or cover.

Copyright Notice

The book publishing contract should require the publisher to include a notice of copyright in the name of the author in a form, place, and manner that complies with copyright law in the United States and/or wherever the book is published.

Assignment vs. License

An assignment occurs when an author gives up the copyright in the book to the publisher. In other words, the author no longer owns the copyright in the book, and the publisher is now the rightful owner of the copyright. This is most common in scenarios where the author is an employee of the publisher. For example, a journalist whose work is routinely published by a news magazine.

A license occurs when an author grants a publisher permission to use the copyright. In other words, the author retains ownership of the copyright in the book, and the publisher may reproduce, distribute, and sell the book. As such, an author of a book or series should always consult a trained agent or licensed attorney to ensure that the book publishing contract grants the publisher a license to exploit the work, not an assignment of the copyright. It is the agent or attorney’s job to guarantee that the book deal is as favorable to the author as possible in this regard.


About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

New Lawsuits in Traditional and Social Media Law

  • When Life Gave Beyoncé YouTube Snippets, She Made “Lemonade.” The estate of YouTuber Messy Mya is suing the Formation singer for $20 million over three samples used in the music video of Lemonade’s lead single. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently denied Beyoncé’s motion to dismiss, finding the YouTuber’s estate has sufficiently alleged that “they can recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees” for Beyoncé’s continued willful infringement of the samples. The court elaborated that Beyoncé had not shown that the estate’s requests constituted “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter” sufficient to strike it from the record.
  • College Football Coach’s Retweet Results in Lawsuit. Sports psychologist Dr. Keith Bell is suing King’s College and the school’s head football coach for copyright and trademark infringement, after the coach retweeted an image of a printed passage from Bell’s 1982 book, Winning Isn’t Normal. The allegedly infringing image was originally tweeted by Northeastern State University’s baseball team, which is not a part of the lawsuit.
  • Breitbart Sued for Borrowing BLM and Brady Photos. In a similar social media inspired lawsuit, a freelance photojournalist is suing Breitbart for using an Instagram photo of Black Lives Matter protesters without his permission on 20 separate URLs. A Getty Images photographer also accused Breitbart of infringing its copyright in a photo of Tom Brady for embedding Gerry Images’ tweet into one of its stories.
  • Multiple Defamation Suits Filed after Spree of Sexual Harassment Allegations.
    • The #MeToo social media campaign has inspired hundreds of women and men to speak out about instances of sexual harassment by famous entertainers, producers, and newsmen. Now, the subjects of the claims are suing their accusers for defamation. Bill O’Reilly seeks $5 million from a man who claimed on Facebook that the former Fox News host sexually harassed his ex-girlfriend through relentless late-night phone calls. The #MeToo post also details how O’Reilly allegedly asked the poster’s ex-girlfriend to assist O’Reilly in mudding the name of a different woman who had accused him of sexual harassment.
    • Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, a Washington sheriff, and other alleged sexual harassers have also sued or have threatened to sue their accusers or the media organizations that published the claims.
    • On the other hand, accusers are also utilizing defamation laws against the men they say sexually harassed them. For example, a former contestant on The Apprentice filed a suit against President Trump after he publicly denied the claims she lodged against him.
  • Highly Controversial Steele Dossier at the Center of Multiple Defamation Claims.
    • Aleksej Gubarev is suing for defamation after Buzzfeed failed to redact his name when they published the now infamous dossier about President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Buzzfeed’s lawyers filed a motion to compel the Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Comey, and James Clapper to answer or confirm nine questions about their role in verifying the document. While other media outlets have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to gather information about the government’s verification process, Buzzfeed’s request arguably carries more weight, since the information is necessary for its defense that their article was a “fair and accurate report of the records that were a basis of official government actions.” The news site seeks protection under Florida’s reporter privilege, common law, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, while the government argues any response would require disclosing classified information.
    • Buzzfeed isn’t the only party that wants answers: Gubarev is seeking to discover who provided Buzzfeed with the dossier. Fusion GPS, the firm hired to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia, and Christopher Steele, the document’s author, both deny being the source.
    • Separately, three owners of Russia’s largest commercial bank have filed their own suit against the firm and the document’s financier Glenn Simpson, in addition to their existing defamation claim against Buzzfeed.

About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.