Will blogging while writing my book create copyright problems?
February 25, 2007 4:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a book and keeping a blog along the way. I have a questions about copyright law in case I want to use text from the blog posts.

While writing my book, I'm keeping a blog that's mostly observations, but also sort of conversations-with-myself as my research deepens. Undoubtedly, this will inform my writing.

What I'm wondering is, suppose I want to lift whole paragraphs or even a full post. Are there copyright problems with this? I've heard that publishing free online might undermine publisher interest because the publisher may not be able to copyright something that has been published online for free. Also, I wonder if the blog host will have any claim on what I write.

The blog is on Vox (URL in profile) if that matters. Though I appreciate all advice, I promise not to take it as legal counsel. Thanks!
posted by jeffmshaw to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
In book publishing, unlike the music industry, the original author retains the copyright. Since you would own the copyright on both the book and the blog, there would not be any problems. (Open up any book and you'll probably see Copyright Author).

Publishers don't copyright works they publish, and your work is automatically copyrighted when you write it.
posted by delmoi at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2007


The Vox terms of service make it quite clear that you retain ownership of your content. Six Apart is granted a limited licence to use your content to promote your blog, but even that limited licence is ended if you close the blog.

I can't say how publishers will respond to some of your book having previously appeared for free on your blog, but I doubt it will be a big deal. If they're really upset, you could always remove the content from the blog.
posted by robcorr at 5:11 PM on February 25, 2007


Publishers might want to buy something along the lines of "first publication rights" to your book, which they can't if it's already been published. But I don't think that's a problem if just parts of it have been published, assuming the book as a whole is a distinct work from a collection-of-blog-posts. (And even if it weren't, it's just a matter of whether the publisher is interested in publishing something that's effectively already been published, not a copyright problem.)

IANAL, nor am I particularly well-informed in this area. Grain of salt, etc.
posted by hattifattener at 5:17 PM on February 25, 2007


Copyright considerations: non-existent.

Commercial viability considerations: a book publisher may feel that the book isn't "exclusive" enough if the content is already available online. I've seen several blogs-turned-into-books and it's been handled differently each time, from removal of the blog, to the publisher not caring at all. Very very many books are published that have previously appeared elsewhere in similar forms, after all.
posted by jellicle at 5:21 PM on February 25, 2007


I've heard that publishing free online might undermine publisher interest

That's true, in the case of publishing a complete work - like, say, you posted a short story on your blog. Then most publishers (and in this example, if it's a short story, we're talking about magazine publishers) wouldn't want to publish it, because it's already out there. So that is probably what your people were talking about.

Totally not a problem in any way if you are using excerpts from online stuff within a book. As long as you are the author of everything, you are fine.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:33 PM on February 25, 2007


Just to make something clear: under the Berne convention, copyright is automatic unless explicitly waived. The fact that you've posted something on a blog doesn't mean you've waived copyright; it's still your property even if you're permitting people to access it without paying.

If, for some reason, you've put a copy of the "Creative Commons" license on your blog, that is a copyright waiver. So don't do that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:02 PM on February 25, 2007


(hopefully not too Off Topic)

If, for some reason, you've put a copy of the "Creative Commons" license on your blog, that is a copyright waiver. So don't do that.

Care to expound? I've always seen it as "Yeah, I've got a big bad copyright. But it's OK if you want to slap my picture in your project" and the like. Is this wrong?
posted by niles at 10:14 PM on February 25, 2007


"Wrong" depends on circumstances. There's nothing wrong with the "Creative Commons" license if you're a casual writer just putting your ideas onto the wires for the hell of it.

If you're trying to go pro, like the OP, the "Creative Commons" license is kryptonite.

They claim that it does not necessarily mean giving up your copyright, but it's still sand in the legal gears.

Under copyright law, once you give up any copyright, even partially, you can never get it back.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:22 PM on February 25, 2007


In book publishing, unlike the music industry, the original author retains the copyright. Since you would own the copyright on both the book and the blog, there would not be any problems. (Open up any book and you'll probably see Copyright Author).

Publishers don't copyright works they publish, and your work is automatically copyrighted when you write it.


delmoi: Your generalization regarding copyright law are misleading.

In both book publishing and in the "music industry" copyright ownership is entirely dependent upon the contract between the author and the company. I've seen many different types of deals with just as many variations on copyright ownership. I've seen publishers own copyright. I've seen publishers co-own copyright. I've seen authors retain copyright ownership only in name, with assignments of most all rights associated with copyright. I've seen exclusive and non-exclusive licenses between musicians and labels where the musician does not give up copyright ownership. There simply is not a cut and dry answer. Generally, absent a written agreement assignment or a work for hire situation, copyright ownership vests with the creator of the work.

Just to make something clear: under the Berne convention, copyright is automatic unless explicitly waived.

Although I know of no jurisdication that is party to the Berne Convention where the above is not true, it is important to remember that the Convention is not self-executing. One must look to individual jurisdictions to see how Berne is implemented. Not all countries are signatories to the Convention.

I am a lawyer who practices copyright law, but I am not your lawyer. Consult competent counsel.
posted by anathema at 11:02 PM on February 25, 2007


One thing to add: if you're allowing comments on your weblog, and if some of your postings refer to, derive from or incorporate anything posted there by anyone else, their copyright status becomes a bit murky. Best to keep things clean and only post original material.

Even if someone just posts an idea it may be best to avoid including that idea in your book. I know copyright isn't supposed to protect ideas, just the expression of them, but publishers may be scared off by potential lawsuits no matter how futile.

If you're not planning to allow comments, nevermind.

#include anathema's disclaimer
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:20 AM on February 26, 2007


One potential gotcha I can imagine is with commenting. If you allow commenting on your blog entries, your commenters will give you new ideas—or at least will be justified in claiming they did. If these ideas they claim to have contributed show up in your book, that could result in some kind of legal complication. I think. IANAL.

Also, from a business standpoint, at least one published writer (John Scalzi) got published because he serialized his book as a blog first. That book later won a Hugo award.
posted by adamrice at 7:40 AM on February 26, 2007


"If, for some reason, you've put a copy of the "Creative Commons" license on your blog, that is a copyright waiver. So don't do that."

The problem with SCDB frequently sounding authoritative is that when he's wrong, it's hard to separate the dross out.
Creative Commons modifies the copyrights reserved. It does not waive copyright, and it is a bizarre suggestion that it does. Further, CC licensing is not "kryptonite," but rather something that would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
I've been warned off of calling people idiots on AskMe, but do note that SCDB doesn't always know what he's talking about, and does default to a rather bizarro-world "conservative" position in many cases, including (I believe) this one.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2007


I work with the Six Apart team (we make Vox) and *lots* of people have started blogs with us and then repurposed some of their content or ideas for a published book. This is more common on TypePad (there's a whole site about them) but almost none of our authors have had any trouble from publishers about that. Seth Godin's last book was essentially a reprint of items from his TypePad blog, and it did very well.

Incidentally, we do try to help promote authors on our services, so when the time comes, let me know if we can pimp your Vox blog and your book. :)
posted by anildash at 3:21 PM on February 26, 2007


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