13 Signs You Shouldn’t Include That Risky Content In Your Book

Hi Ang:

As always, your advice this week regarding “13 Signs You Shouldn’t Include That Risky Content In Your Book” is excellent. I can give you two personal examples of situations where distance didn’t mean a thing in cases of plagiarizing someone else’s work. One was intentional and one was an innocent mistake (although I should have been more diligent in finding out if a copyright still existed). Thankfully, they both had happy endings but they could have caused a lot of financial grief. Strangely enough, they both involved published material from England.

In the first case, I was just an innocent bystander. I was Editor of a weekly newspaper and my Publisher sold a lot of the advertising and was also the chief layout artist (did I mention it was a very SMALL weekly?) Anyway, his highest-paying advertiser owned a fancy subdivision that included a riding stable. He wanted to feature the stable in his full page ad that week and, as artwork, the Publisher photocopied a cartoon featuring a cute little English girl decked out in full riding habit and riding a Shetland pony. It was from a book of English cartoons someone had given his daughter as a Christmas gift. As I recall, the character – from a long-running English cartoon strip – was called Penelope.

When I pointed out that the drawing was probably subject to copyright and shouldn’t be included in the ad, the Publisher snorted and said: “This book comes all the way from England. The artist doesn’t have access to our paper. He’ll never see it.” Wrong! Within a week, we got a “cease and desist” letter from the artist’s solicitor in England. Obviously one of our readers was familiar with the cartoon and had sent the ad to the artist or to the publishing firm that produced the book. That was the first and last time the cartoon was used and, fortunately, we never heard another word about it.

In my book Some Sunny Day, the title comes from the World War Two song We’ll Meet Again. My Dad used to sing the song at family gatherings and, since the book was about life after his return from overseas following the war, I thought it would be appropriate to include the first verse in the book. Naively, I figured that so much time had passed since the song had been written, it was probably in the public domain and I was free to use it.

I must have had a horseshoe in my back pocket at the time because, by an almost unbelievable coincidence, an English friend of mine bought several copies of the book and sent them to friends and relatives in England as gifts. Shortly thereafter, she got a note from one of her nieces pointing out that her husband, C. Ross Parker, owned the rights to the song, which his father, Ross Parker, had written. I wrote Mr. Parker a letter of apology and he sent back a nice note giving me permission, after the fact, to use the verse. Needless to say, a line indicating this permission was inserted in the next and subsequent editions of the book.

Keep those words of advice coming, Ang. You’re providing an invaluable service.

Bear hugs,
Tom Douglas
Author, Editor, Freelance Writer
Recipient – Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation 2012