Using Copyrighted Church Materials

Where do I go or who do I see if I have an idea about an LDS book? Well its a combination of a book and LDS primary songs.

Thanks in advance for your help.

First, because it uses Primary songs—and those are copyrighted—you’ll need to apply for permission to use them. CLICK HERE for Copyright Guidelines and contact information.

My understanding is that they are pretty tight about permission to create songbooks. If you’re quoting songs as part of a novel, that’s a little different.

And for those who want to quote General Authorities, start with the Intellectual Property Office, same as with songs.

I Have Contract in Hand, Now What?

Normally, this would be a Writing Tip Tuesday post, but I have several questions in the queue and I want to get to them before I start posting the short stories for the contest. (10 more days to submit; tick-tock!)

Dear LDSP, I finally have a contract in hand, (AAaahhhh!!!) but have no idea how good it is. Do you know, 1) is 5% of the net received by publisher for the first 5000 acceptable? Also, 2) how long is the “full term of copyright”? This contract seems relatively innocuous, but what do I know. 3) Is there someone you could recommend to have look a contract over?

  1. Royalties vary from publisher to publisher. 5% of net, IMHO, is low but I’ve been hearing that a lot lately in the LDS market, especially for first time authors. Here is a fairly clear explanation of how royalties work (retail vs net). Keep in mind that many LDS fiction titles never hit that 5,000 mark, some do not even crack 1,000.
  2. Copyright. I’ve had several questions lately about basic copyright, so first let’s define it.

    Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. (

    This means, as I said yesterday, that as soon as you put your ideas into a fixed form—write on paper, typed into a computer, recorded on a tape—your work is protected by copyright. You, as the creator of that work, own the copyright.

    When you go through a publisher to have that work published, you are essentially selling or licensing to a third party the right to publish (copy) and distribute (sell) that work in various formats. Payment for those rights come back to you in the form of royalties and/or advances against expected royalties.

    The term, or length of time, that those rights are available to that publisher is defined in your contract, as are the various formats that the publisher can sell.

    Current U.S. copyright law states that the “full term of copyright” lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. Therefore, according to your contract, the publisher will have the right to publish and sell your book for your entire lifetime, plus 50 years.

    However, before you panic, usually there is an out-of-print clause or a minimum sales clause in there somewhere that states that if the publisher lets your book go out of print, or if sales of the book drop below a certain point for a given amount of time, the rights will revert back to the author. If you don’t have a clause like that, try to get one added.

  3. One of the benefits of having a good agent is that it’s their job to look through your contract and make sure it’s legal and fair to you. In the LDS industry, we don’t have agents. Too small. If you have access to a copyright contract attorney, that’s your best bet—but it’s also expensive. Try to find someone who has a little experience with publishing and contracts to read through it. And if you don’t understand your contract, by all means, have your publisher explain it before you sign.

But It’s Mine!

This was asked in the comments section of the Book of Mormon short story contest info post.

A newbie question: When you say the author retains the copyright, does that imply I should copyright it before I submit?

Your work is copyrighted the minute you set it in tangible and/or readable format, whether you type it into your computer or write it longhand on the back of a napkin. You don’t need to do anything more.

What that reference in the info post means is that I won’t assume copyright ownership of the piece. It will remain yours forever.

And speaking of the contest, TWO* more weeks to submit your story!

*Oops. When I wrote this, it was three weeks, and then I changed the post date and forgot to change the reminder date. Yes, deadline is Feb. 19th.

Image Copyrights

I would like to use a few graphics in the book. Is there a specific form or format that you need the approval from the source to be in?

For instance, the cover. I can find the artist and ask permission to use his/her work, but would a simple email stating that he/she has allowed me to use it suffice?

What if the artist has died many years ago and dozens of art dealers sell the same picture? Do I still need to get permission from someone to use the Art?

As an author or self-publisher, a simple e-mail will do it most of the time. Just be sure you’ve contacted the correct person and that they, indeed, own the rights to the work.

As a publisher, I required a little more from my authors because I was not contacting the original source myself. I had a contract they could use. In some cases, I needed the contract notarized.

Even if an artist has died and others sell the artwork, it still may be protected. You have to do your research to find out if it’s protected (then yes, you need permission) or if it’s in public domain (no, you don’t need permission).

I’ve mentioned The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers, Editors and Publisher by Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C Schechter before, but I highly recommend it for anyone (read: everyone) writing non-fiction and quoting other sources. I got mine at my local Barnes and Noble, but it’s also available on Amazon.

This is a reasonably priced book and has lots and lots of really good information on the topic, including how to tell what’s protected and what’s not, getting permissions and releases on artwork (and literary works), how to find artists, and sample contracts in the appendix (including ones for art).

There is another very good book, Kirsch’s Handbook Of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors And Agents by Jonathan Kirsch, but it’s currently out of print and not available at Amazon. It was also pretty pricey when it was in print. This one I recommend to agents, editors and publishers.

How Do I Protect My Ideas?

I have a question about personal copyrights. Sometimes I think about sharing a portion of my story (4-6 pages), but I worry that someone may take my idea and make it their own. I know that it would be a different story, because of how they would interpret it. But my question is how can you share your story with others (writing groups, online, etc) and make sure that you’re protected? I don’t imagine it happens often, but what do you do if it does?

Your copyright protection begins when you put the first word on the page. Copyright protects the uniqueness of your story–your unique and specific words in their unique, specific order; the unique, specific combination of traits for your main character, if he/she is very unique; possibly your world, if it’s unique enough. It doesn’t protect your idea or your basic outline or names/titles.

The best protection you have is to get your work published. Once it’s out there, and especially if it’s popular, editors will reject stories that are too similar to it. The more unique your story is, the more protection it will have. No one is going to accept a book about a vampire who lives in Forks, WA and whose skin sparkles in the sunlight unless it’s written by Stephenie Meyer. That is unique.

The human/vampire romance, however, is not unique. You can’t protect something like that. How many stories are there now about magical orphaned boys? About werewolves and mermaids? About people who see dead people? You cannot protect an idea; only your unique spin on that idea. If someone takes your basic idea and puts a new spin on it, they haven’t stolen your work any more than Meyer stole from Tanya Huff or Robin McKinley or Annette Curtis Klause. Chances are there’s probably already something out there that is similar to what you’re working on. Perhaps you’ve even read it. But you’ve taken that idea and created something new. We can’t stop that from happening, nor would we want to or we’d end up with only 25 books to read in the entire history of the world.

Now, as for protecting the unique ideas in an unpublished work, everything is a trade-off. Sharing your work in a writers group can give you wonderful feedback and improve your writing. There’s always that possibility that someone, intentionally or otherwise, might pick up some of your uniqueness and run with it. You have to weigh the risks vs the rewards and decide what you’re comfortable with.

This is my personal comfort zone: I share in face-to-face regular writing groups and classrooms, and in online writers groups and forums that require a password to enter. In these situations, I know the others involved can vouch for me if one of them “steals” my story. I do not share in a public forum, like a blog or a website, anything I intend to publish.

What about you, readers? Do you have this same concern? Where do you draw the line between risk vs reward?

Quoting Church Leaders

This does not apply to most LDS fiction writers, but non-fiction writers–HEADS UP!

The Church is tightening up their copyright permission policies. Actually, they’re not really changing their policies, rather, they’re tightening up enforcement of the policies that have been in existence for years. The number of books and other products that are using copyrighted, intellectual property without permission is off the charts. It’s been a long time coming, but I personally think it’s an appropriate step for the Church to take–even if it makes my job a little harder.

Each project requesting permission to use copyrighted materials will be evaluated on its own terms, but here are a few general tips.

  • Fair use laws apply when quoting commercially published materials (ex: book written by a General Authority). Each publisher will have their own interpretation of fair use, so contact them for permission.
  • You must have permission to quote living General Authorities. This includes articles in the Ensign and Conference talks, as well as quotes from their published books. As Church leaders are often traveling, it may take as long as two months for a response.
  • Deceased General Authorities and other Church leaders may be quoted according to existing copyright laws. (You probably need permission for anything published after 1923.)
  • Guidelines for quoting Church Handbooks are generally included in the handbook itself.
  • Art, music, and other works have specific guidelines and need permission to be used.
  • Scriptures may be used without permission, with the exception of the headings, footnotes, Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary, which are copyrighted.
  • Generally, the Church does not give permission for compilations and quote books to use the words of General Authorities and other Church leaders, although the individual may be willing to do so.
  • Permission must be given in writing. You may submit your requests or ask questions via email at cor-intellectualproperty[at]ldschurch[dot]org. (Sorry, I can’t get the link to work.) Give specifics about your project.
  • As might be imagined, the Church’s permissions department has been swamped with requests, so it may take some time for a response. Some items will get a quick response in a matter of days, but longer projects (like books) may take up to two months to receive a response.

It is your responsibility as the author of the book to get written permission for quotes BEFORE you submit your manuscript to a publisher. If you’re having trouble getting those permissions, your publisher may be willing to help you, but be prepared to rewrite if the answer is no.