Can a book be copyrighted?

Copyright for authors: Legal notices for your book publication 2020

History of copyright

Furthermore, copyright regulates the rights between the author and his legal successors. This connection was already known in antiquity. At that time there was no legally regulated protection of intellectual property, but it was then that the first plagiarism arose. The poet Marcus Valerius Martialis accused his colleague Fidentinus of having copied his poems and called him a robber, which in Latin plagiarius means.

However, the author was only protected as the author of intellectual content from the end of the Middle Ages, when the introduction of book printing with movable type allowed books to be reproduced more quickly and thus also distributed. From the 18th century there was a reproduction right in England for the first time, which the author could assign to a publisher for a certain period of time.

Copyright in its current form has only existed since the 1960s in the form of the Copyright Act (UrhG), although there have been repeated adjustments in the following years, primarily due to globalization and internationalization. However, critics of copyright law repeatedly point out that the law in its current form does not do justice to the (digital) changes in the media world and needs to be reformed.

The Impact of the Internet on Copyright

In the new millennium, copyright is facing completely new challenges and can hardly keep up with technical progress. Google or social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube have played a major role in the fact that a completely new culture has developed, especially among the younger generation, which believes that content can be accessed and used on the Internet as desired copy and distribute quickly and anonymously.

Most people are not even aware that they are violating copyright law. This problem mainly occurs with photos that can be copied easily and without much loss of quality. However, foreign texts are also used on your own website, often without specifying the source, and thus automatically displayed as your own intellectual property. For this reason, there have been adjustments to copyright law in the recent past, so that, for example, circumventing copy protection in digital works is interpreted and prosecuted as a criminal offense.

We do not want to demonize the Internet at this point, after all, it also offers you as an author completely new distribution channels, for example through the sale of e-books or distribution via platforms such as Amazon.

When are you a creator?

If you as the author record your own ideas in a text, then you are the author of the work and therefore have the sole right to use it. This right comes into effect automatically and does not require any further registration, as is necessary for a patent, for example. In this context, it is important that the text is recorded in writing; the idea of ​​a novel alone is not subject to any protection.

Limitation of Copyright

The copyright cannot be transferred to third parties, so it remains with the author even after death. His heirs can still claim the right for up to 70 years afterwards, but then everyone has the opportunity to publish or edit the work. For this reason, as part of our TREDITION CLASSICS, we have reissued more than 30,000 titles from world literature, some of which were previously no longer available in printed form.

Difference between exploitation rights and copyright

In addition to pure copyright law, which we have now adequately defined, there is that Exploitation right, including that Duplication-, the Diffusion as well as that Exhibition rights as well the Publication and Right of use fall, all closely related.

The Publication right is part of moral law and gives the author the right to determine whether, how and when the work is made available to the public. This is necessary in order to utilize the content. The author can have this right as well as that Exploitation right claim himself or he enters this possession as Right of use to a publisher. This then takes over the duplication and distribution of the text so that the author can Duplication and Distribution right leaves, whereby the framework conditions are of course set out in a contract. In this context, the fee, a time limit and other aspects are also stipulated.

Publishers often advertise that “all rights remain with the author”, although this passage should be used with caution. Because the copyright remains definitely with the author, but often you cannot make use of it, because most publishers claim the exploitation rights exclusively for themselves. A non-exclusive exploitation right is contractually agreed with tredition, which means that you can publish and reproduce your work elsewhere at any time. You can find details on this in our book contract.

Please also read our summary of all important legal information for authors.

Copyright Infringement and Its Consequences

There is a violation of copyright if the copyrights or exploitation rights are disregarded. This is the case, for example, with the unauthorized duplication or publication of a work, which can be prosecuted under criminal and civil law. But before you make a claim, you should check with the help of a lawyer whether there is actually a violation of copyright, although it is of course often difficult to find the culprit, especially in the case of unauthorized publication on the Internet.

If this is successful, however, a warning for failure to act is first sent, within which an out-of-court settlement is possible. As the author, you can demand the omission and removal of the unlawful distribution as well as compensation.

What to do in the event of a copyright infringement warning

Conversely, you should of course also check your own work for possible copyright infringements, our checklist below will help you. If, despite all your caution, you receive a warning from a lawyer, then you should not take it lightly. Check very carefully whether the warned allegations are correct and, if in doubt, consult a lawyer. This will then help you to find out whether the claims are justified and reasonable. If this is not the case, you can actively take action against it with a counter warning or a negative declaratory action. However, you will bear any additional costs for this if the original copyright infringement ultimately turns out to be permissible.

The cease and desist declaration as part of the warning

However, if the warning is justified, you usually have to submit a declaration of discontinuance. This is a contract in which you declare by signing that you will refrain from the warned facts in the future. At the same time, a declaration of omission represents an admission of guilt and also receives a possible contractual penalty in the event of an infringement. Incidentally, you should not take this contract lightly, as it does not expire and is therefore valid for life. In addition, the contract can contain the removal of the copyright infringement, which is less serious in the case of e-books, but can result in destruction in the case of printed books, which of course entails additional costs.

The composition of possible claims

In addition, you must comply with the demands received in the warning, whereby a lawyer can reduce the amount in most cases. The costs are made up of several items, with the actual compensation only being part of it. This is usually calculated from the so-called license analogy, that is, you pay the value that results from a fictitious license agreement. For example, if you have illegally used two images for which an author normally receives 300 euros, the pure compensation for the two images is 600 euros.

In addition, there are warning fees, which, however, were limited to 150 euros for private individuals some time ago in order to avoid waves of warnings that law firms have specialized in in the past. In addition, there are legal fees, which are determined from the value of the object, and possibly costs for an expert. In total, the costs can amount to 1,000-10,000 euros or, in particular cases of hardship, imprisonment of three to five years is possible if the copyright infringement has a commercial background.

First aid in the event of a warning:

  1. Keep calm
  2. Do you check the factual accuracy of the allegations, are you or your work affected at all?
  3. Call in a lawyer
  4. Note deadlines
  5. Has there been a violation of copyright?
  6. Are the demands appropriate?
  7. Removal of the copyright infringing content

Breakdown of costs in the event of a copyright infringement:

  1. damages
  2. Author's legal fees
  3. own legal fees
  4. Warning fee
  5. Appraisal costs
  6. Disposal costs

In the “legal” context, you can also find out more about the design of an author's website that complies with data protection regulations.


You have to check these aspects before (!) Publishing

  • Of course, you can be inspired by other works, but you are not allowed to simply adopt entire sentences or even passages of text from other authors. The use of individual text passages from a third-party author is possible as part of a quotation if this is useful for emphasizing or explaining one's own content and the quotation is integrated into one's own work. In this case it is particularly important to identify the quotation as such by indicating the source. If this step is not taken, it is plagiarism and a violation of copyright law. You are also welcome to read our detailed information on the right to quote.

  • Respect for personal rights

    This aspect is not directly related to copyright, but it is of great importance. If you mention real people by name or if they are clearly recognizable from the description, then they can take legal action if they recognize themselves and see themselves as vilified or slandered. If in doubt, have a lawyer clarify this aspect.

  • Just like the content of a work, titles are also subject to copyright. And since a memorable and unmistakable title is important for the success of a book, you should not only find a suitable title, but also check whether it already exists or whether a word or phrase is protected by patent. But even in this case you can of course, in connection with a reasonable fee, obtain approval for its use or use variants. The title protection section of the Börsenblatt and the databases of the German Patent and Trademark Office offer help with searching for titles. If you have found a good title that has not yet been protected, you can apply for title protection from the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels. This is valid as long as the title is available.

  • Check used pictures!

    The Internet invites you to copy pictures, but it is precisely in this area that most legal cases currently exist. You should therefore only use images from the common image databases such as fotolia or iStockphoto. The use of these images is legally secure and usually relatively inexpensive. Alternatively, you can of course also obtain written permission for use from the author of an image and pay the fee directly to him. You should also mention the author by name in the imprint.

    This article makes it clear that copyright law is very multifaceted. Nevertheless, don't be afraid to use photos or quotes in your works and incorporate them creatively. If you obtain the appropriate permits, then you are legally on the safe side. Conversely, as the creator of an intellectual work, you are subject to cultural protection. Do not be afraid to take legal action if someone uses your content without being asked and without labeling.