Self-publishing essentials with Ellie Marney: the legal checklist
New to self-publishing? Then it’s important to tick all the legal boxes related to releasing your work, so you don’t run into trouble. It’s particularly worth noting for hybrid authors, whose traditional publishers have previously done all this work for them.
Listed below are some of the legal requirements for self-publishing in Australia, and a few tips to set you straight.
Don’t get scammed: there is no ‘fee’ for retaining your copyright in Australia, and you don’t have to register—copyright protection is automatic upon creation of your manuscript.
But you do need to include a copyright page (or imprint page) in the front of your book to assert your copyright—this is also the first page checked by librarians, booksellers and distributors, so it’s pretty important. Your copyright page displays your copyright notice, ISBN, reservation of rights, and any Prepublication Data Service (formerly known as Cataloguing in Publication) or edition information. It’s also the place to attach any disclaimers, or contributor credits (such as acknowledgement of cover designers etc.). A short primer on the copyright page, and a template to create one, is available here.
Copyright lasts for the life of the author until 70 years after their death. You can find out more about copyright in Australia at the Arts Law Centre here.
For issues of copyright, the Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL) is a genuine non-profit organisation that protects author copyright, collects licence fees and distributes royalties. Membership is free, and you can claim payment for use of your work—particularly handy for authors who have books distributed in government or educational settings. You can join CAL here.
Cover image/font usage
You can’t just grab a cool image or font off the internet and stick it on your self-published book’s cover—a photographer or artist’s image, or a typographer’s font, is copyright protected. You can only use them by paying a licensing fee, or obtaining permission from the copyright holder.
If you’re creating your own book cover, or providing images to a cover designer, it’s up to you, as the publisher, to ensure those images are legally obtained and paid for, or are available through a royalty-free site (like Shutterstock).
In Australia, quoting a single line from another book may be considered a copyright infringement if the part you’re quoting ‘distils the essence of the work’.
If you’d like to use a quote in your book, even as an epigraph, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder—the author and the publisher—and attribute the quote, and you might have to pay a licensing fee.
Some texts are considered ‘public domain’—works published in the US before 1923, for instance—but you need to check Australian law carefully before using any quotes.
Using song lyrics
Again, you have to obtain permission and pay a licensing fee. Song lyric permissions are notoriously expensive and hard to acquire—but if you know the musician or composer personally, you might get lucky.
Every book published in Australia, or published by Australian authors or organisations, for free or for sale, must be deposited with the National Library of Australia (NLA) and the relevant State library.
Even if your book is printed overseas, if you’re an Aussie author, you’re obliged to deposit. One copy should go to the NLA, and one copy should go to the State/Territory library in which you reside. You are obliged to cover the cost of the books and postage yourself. If you’re working with a self-publishing service, it is you, not the service, who is responsible for deposit—but check with your service, so there’s no doubling-up. ISBNs are not a requirement for books to be eligible for deposit.
Ebooks: With improvements in digital technology and storage, the NLA is now requesting that self-publishers who only release in ebook deposit an electronic copy of their book via their new edeposit service.
Print: Find out where to deposit here. If you publish in both print and ebook, you only need to deposit one format.
Legal deposit isn’t really a chore: it’s a way to be confident that your work will always be accessible over time. Contact the NLA if you have any queries about legal deposit.
Still confused about legal requirements of self-publishing?
Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family, and her latest book, White Night (Allen & Unwin), was published in March 2018. Find her at www.elliemarney.com or on Twitter or Instagram.