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The DMCA is a Challenge, Not a Curse

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on May 21, 2013 | Comments (3)

DMCA sounds like a strange Enochian entity that can be evoked through the use of weird tablets and strange, almost Cthuloid Calls into the beyond world of the dark night.

It’s not.

DMCA is short for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was signed into U.S. law just before Samhain (hmmm), 1998, and basically strengthened copyright law enforcement and punishment. If you break copyright laws, it could be quite costly.

This has upset lots of people for a variety of reasons. Copyright is actually one of the few laws set up in the U.S. Constitution. Copyright is “the power to secure for limited times to authors the exclusive right to their writings.” (Wikipedia) In other words, if you write something original, you have the right to promote it and profit from it as you see fit without someone stealing it or claiming it as their own. That, to me, seems reasonable and fair.

The problem with the DMCA is that it doesn’t explicitly spell out what constitutes copyright law violation and  what is “fair use.”

For example, if I were writing a book review and I quoted a brief passage of the book, that’s considered fair use and not a violation of copyright laws. If I used the exact same quotation in something I wrote, but I didn’t indicate that it was a quote or the source, that would be a copyright violation, and with the DMCA, that could be very costly, indeed.

One challenge to following copyright law is that writers are also readers. Imagine that you saw something in a book ten years ago and what you read becomes part of your thinking. Then, in a new book you write something that is similar to what you originally read without even crediting the source because you simply forgot it. That might be copyright infringement.

Might.

It’s legal to use some quoted words without getting permission to quote, but how many and for what purpose? Different authorities give different rules and one lawyer I read stated that the only way to know for sure was to try it, get sued, take it to court, and then, if necessary, take the decision all the way to the Supreme Court in order to set a precedent. That could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in publishing, most books earn far less than that.

In reality, it’s safer and easier to ask the publisher of source material, if known, for permission to quote it. And that’s something that scares many potential new authors away from writing. “If I create a chapter that features a very important quote, what can I do if I can’t get permission to use the quote?”

Acquisitions at Llewellyn

As many of you reading this know, I am now an acquisitions editor at Llewellyn. We’re looking for new manuscripts all the time. We have usually promoted the use of limited quotes. We’re looking for your thoughts, not the thoughts of other writers.

More recently, we’ve begun looking for increasingly definitive and scholarly books. We’ve always done that, but it can be seen more in such books as those from Steven Skinner, some of the most important scholarly and practical occult books available anywhere. Recently, while working with the author of one of the books I’ve acquired for Llewellyn, I saw he had used extensive quotes and art of another author and artist. I told the him that getting permissions would be necessary and sent him forms he could use to obtain them. He was terribly worried—what if they wouldn’t give permission? I told him to try it and see what happens. A few weeks later I received an email. He was very excited because they had given him written permission to use the material and told him how to word the credits for their use. Now, his book is scheduled to be published.

Two Things to Note

There are twos things I want to point out on this. First, as the title of this post implies, the DMCA is a challenge, not a curse. And in fact, in many cases a few emails or letter is all that is required to get permission to use quotes and art. That makes sense. After all, if we list the originator and publication source we are literally giving free publicity to another product. They should want to give permission and have you achieve success. If you have an idea for a book but are worried about getting permission for quotes, get to work and start writing!

Second, books are not treated as either/or propositions. If you have a great idea for a book, start writing it. If you propose it and we like it, we’ll work with you to help you achieve a great book that is also successful. I’ll work with you to help you make it successful. If I acquire a book for Llewellyn I want it to be great because it’s my reputation on the line, too.

So, if you have an idea for a book, have started writing a book, or would like to see if we’re interested, please let me know. You can write to me at DonK@Llewellyn.com. Let’s talk about it.

Possibilities

If you have a book or are just thinking about it and want to know more, there are basically three possible answers you could receive from us:

  1. Yes, we’re interested.
  2. We’re interested, but it needs more work.
  3. Thanks, but it’s not something we can’t use right now.

If you don’t try, if you don’t bother contacting us, it’s the same as receiving answer number three. If you do contact us you’ve increased your possibility of being accepted or getting direction by more than 66%. So if you have a non-fiction occult book you’ve written, or are even just thinking about, let us know!

How to Submit or Query

Okay, you’ve written your book or you have a great idea. What do you do next? Whether you send your submission or proposal to us or another publisher, go to that publisher’s website and look for guidelines. To save you time, your submission to us should include the following:

  • A Cover letter containing a brief description of the project and the contents of the package.
  • If you’re making a proposal, include an outline and/or annotated table of contents.
  • A description of the intended market as it pertains to the subject matter including an explanation of why someone would want to buy the book.
  • Include a list of known competing titles and how yours differs. Include ISBNs if known.
  • A brief summary of the your background and credentials as related to the subject matter. That is, why are you qualified to write this book?
  • A full manuscript, if completed.
  • In the case of a proposal, at least three sample chapters.
  • Submissions must be in English, double-spaced with 1-inch margins in 12-point type.
  • Please use a common font such as Times or Helvetica.
  • Please number the pages and include a table of contents.
  • Complete permissions and citations. For more information please ask and I will send you more information and forms for your use.
  • Total word count for the proposed manuscript. Most of our manuscripts are at least 50,000 words. 55,000–60,000 words minimum is better.
  • Your complete daytime contact information including telephone and email.

That’s it! Most of these items are logical or technical. I’ve received some submissions without a title and without the author’s name. Don’t do that! Instead, send me your submission, and if it looks like it will be good for you and for us, let’s work together to share your book with people who are looking to learn what you know.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Michael Lloyd
on May 21st, 2013 @ 11:36 am

It is absolutely crucial that aspiring authors educate themselves about what they can and cannot do with other people’s intellectual property. There are plenty of books and online guidance on fair use, so a failure to limit one’s use, or else secure the appropriate permissions, and properly credit one’s sources, is inexcusable. This is part of the author’s job. On the publisher’s side of the equation is a duty to insist that authors obtain proper clearance/permissions for the use of other people’s copyrighed work (this is a standard clause in most publishing contracts) and to properly cite those sources in the final product. I also think that, given several high-profile cases of plagiarism by well-known authors, it behooves publishers to use plagiarism scanning software to spot check the manuscripts they plan on making offers on. This is not rocket science.

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#2 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 21st, 2013 @ 11:52 am

You’re right, Michael, it’s not rocket science. Unfortunately, it’s also not settled law. Copying an entire chapter or book and claiming it as your own is obvious. But what about a sentence or a paragraph? What are the specifics? While there are some general guidelines, the fine edges of those guidelines can end up in a pricy court case.

My point, however, is that this is not a curse, it’s merely a challenge, and usually a minor challenge at that. Obtaining permission to use a quote from another person’s work is usually neither complicated nor difficult. It shouldn’t turn potential new authors away from writing and getting published.

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#3 
Written By Michael Lloyd
on May 21st, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

You are correct, Donald. Its not settled law; however, there is a significant amount of case law that provides reasonable guidance on what is considered “fair use” (e.g., the rule of thumb that one can quote a 50-word continuous chuck, with a max of 150 words from a single book-length work). The end result must also add substantially to or transform the material being used. And fair use still presumes that the author properly cites his source and doesn’t claim the material as his/her own. It takes a healthy dollop of common sense and a great deal of respect on the part of the author for his sources. I hate to say it, but if an aspiring author has neither of those characteristics, s/he should probably refrain from publishing.

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