Monday, March 13, 2006

Copyright and Rejection

A writer wrote me recently and asked whether it would be okay to post the rejections he received from agents and editors on his blog. Here is my response:

Did you know that according to the Copyright Law of 1978, even personal letters, including e-mail letters, are copyrighted as soon as they are published (put on paper)? You may share the letters with others in this form; however, the moment you republish them on a blog, you have violated the letter creator’s copyright because you have not been given permission to copy the letter onto a blog or Web site. This is what a publishing contract is all about—permission to copy and distribute copyrighted works.

The reason I’m mentioning this is that there seems to be a trend where writers are posting rejection letters written to them by agents. If you do this, you are in direct violation of the originating agent’s copyright on that letter, and might, if they choose, be subject to a lawsuit by them for copyright infringement.

I know it’s fun to share your rejections with fellow writers, to get their comments and to vent your delight or frustration. However, whatever the case might be, if you happen to push too far and that particular agent feels you have damaged his or her business reputation, he or she might have enough incentive to sue you, not only for infringement but for damages to his or her business reputation.

So, the bottom line is that although it might be tempting to extract vengeance for hurt vanity, be sure you ask permission before posting anyone’s correspondence. Personal letters to you from an agent or an editor are confidential business communication and are not to be published in any form on the Internet or elsewhere without permission from their creator. Many letters even include a message at the bottom that indicates this. How would you like it if an editor or agent posted your query or a portion of your work on their blog? Suppose, also, they used your real name and then made fun of all the dumb mistakes you made. How would you feel about that person? Would you be angry enough to sue them?

When it comes to created works, size doesn’t count. Even one-liners are copyrightable. So don’t let your publishing freedom get you into trouble. Make sure you understand the copyright laws before you publish anything that isn’t yours to publish.

5 comments:

Desperate Writer said...

This is interesting to note...There is a blog out there called Query Letter I Love. The one who had it has passed,evidently, but there are strill queries up there for ridicule. Recently I had a nightmare that one of MINE was on there!

http://queryletters.blogspot.com/

Faith said...

I think the problem in this is that people just don't realize that such material IS copyrighted. Afterall, they're letters. Heck, I didn't, and I've been writing and selling my fiction for several years!

Kate September said...

This entry brings to mind two things...

1. WHY on earth would anyone post their rejection letters? If you are focused on building a brand of success for yourself, then you keep all them pesky lil' rejection letters to yourself!

2. In the dark years of my career when I used to work in public relations for the high tech industry, there used to be a website called Buzzkill.net (http://www.buzzkiller.net/buzzsaw.html). They posted wonderful, hilariously miserable pitch letters (similar in pleading tone to query letters). They, being a group of journalists, always made the letters anonymous. But you always felt as if the PR girl in the next cube over might have written it.

Kate

rys said...

Thank you for this information. I've learned a lot from reading these entries.

Anonymous said...

Of course there are limits on the copyright. It only protects against verbatim use. For example, if someone loved your idea in a synopsis, and decided to write their own version of the story, that is not protected, according to case law.