10 things you should know about … publishing law

23 Jul 2012
Alasdair Taylor

The law relating to the publication of books, journals, newspapers, magazines and their electronic equivalents is, I think, one of the most interesting areas of legal study. Although the core principles of publishing law are enduring, change is a constant.  The manifestation of the principles of the law of publishing in legislation and case law reflects both the march of technology and the deep currents of our literary culture – as well as passing parliamentary and judicial fashions. In this way, publishing law holds a cracked mirror to our literary culture; and the reflections we glimpse aren’t always pretty.

In this post, I outline some of the headline features of the law of publishing: those things that everyone involved in publishing should know about.

1. It’s a chimera

There is no unitary body of law that relates exclusively to publishing, although many areas of law makes use of variations on the concept of a publication. It is those areas of law – copyright, defamation, contempt of court, and so on – that form the kernel of publishing law. In other words, the subject is composed of a miscellany of the parts of real legal subjects: it’s a chimera.

2. The importance of copyright

The heart of our chimera is copyright law, which gives legal protection to works that lie at the heart of publishing: books, journal and magazine articles, blog posts, and other literary formats. Copyright prohibits, amongst other things, the publication of a work protected by copyright without the permission of the copyright owner.

3. Exploitation and contract

While copyright protects the monetary value of literary works, the law of contract enables their effective exploitation. The rights that copyright creates (including the right to copy and publish a work) can be “dealt with” by means of a contract.

4. Assignments vs licences

There are two main sorts of dealing. Assignments of copyright involve the transfer of ownership of the copyright; licences, on the other hand, involve the granting of an express right to do something which would otherwise be an infringement of copyright. Some kinds of publishing, for example trade publishing, usually involve licensing rather than assignments. Other types of publishing involve assignments rather than licences.

5. Writing it down

All or almost all publishing agreements should be in writing. Whilst English law tolerates unwritten contracts, those which involve a legal assignment of copyright or an exclusive licence of copyright within the meaning of the legislation must be in writing. Even where a publishing arrangement does not involve an assignment or exclusive licence, it is sensible to prepare a written agreement. A good written agreement provides the best evidence of the contract, helps ensure that the parties are of one mind, reduces the risk of a dispute and helps with the management of a dispute should one arise. A lack of good contractual documentation can render a publishing business unsaleable.

6. Fees, royalties and advances

A publishing agreement will typically provide for an author to be remunerated either by the payment of an agreed fee or by the payment of a royalty. Where payment is by way of royalty, there may also be an advance, which will need to be earned-out before the royalty payments commence. Agreements featuring assignments of copyright tend to work better with fee-based payments, while agreements featuring licences of copyright tend to work better with royalty-based payments, but in practice many agreements combine assignments and royalties or licences and fees.

7. Works and warranties

A publisher will usually ask an author to warrant (that is, affirm the truth of) various statements regarding the work to be published. For example, a publisher might ask an author to warrant that the work is the original creation of the author, that it has never been previously published, and that it won’t infringe the copyright of any third party. Many of the warranties in a publishing contract will be directed at the issue of content liability. This is because the publisher – and sometimes others involved in the publication and distribution of a work – may be liable in the event that the work contains legally problematic material.

8. Forms of content liability

There are many different ways that legal rights can be infringed, and many different sorts of legal wrongs that can be committed, by the simple act of publishing a written work. For example, a single work could: be libellous or maliciously false; be obscene or indecent; infringe copyright, moral rights, database rights, trade mark rights, design rights, rights in passing off, or other intellectual property rights; infringe rights of confidence, rights of privacy, or rights under data protection legislation; constitute negligent advice; constitute an incitement to commit a crime; be in contempt of court, or in breach of a court order; be in breach of racial or religious hatred or discrimination legislation; be blasphemous; or be in breach of official secrets legislation.

9. Moral rights

Moral rights arise in relation to most works that attract the protection of copyright. Unlike copyright moral rights cannot ordinarily be transferred, although as a matter of English law at least they can be waived.  The most important moral rights are the right of paternity (i.e. attribution), the right to object to the derogatory treatment of a work, and the right to object to the false attribution of a work.

10. Publishing law and litigation

Publishing companies are quite risk adverse, and rarely litigate. In particular, they rarely sue individual authors, partly because authors may not have assets worth pursuing, partly because of the expense of litigation, but also because they do not want to be perceived as being unfriendly to authors.


Dear Alasdair

I was recently invited, with one other writer, to contribute a chapter to a short book which is published in July 2024. The book now appears within all the various U.K. bookstore websites (Foyles / Waterstones etc) when you search under it’s ISBN and its name. However, the only person credited as the author is the publisher (who also wrote the introduction).

I had hoped as an emerging writer that my name would be credited as a co-author, however was advised when I asked if this could happen that I was being ‘needy’. Do I have any right to be credited? I received a small fee for my contribution, no contract was provided. The other contributor is also not credited.

Having seen the proofs of the book, though, I am credited within it, although in a strange way (I think): It says ‘xxxx’ (author) ‘with written contributions from’ (me and the other contributor). But the ‘author’ only wrote the introduction and I wrote the rest of the book with someone else!

What can I do to ensure that when searching for the book my name appears as a co-author?

Thanks so much in advance

As a designer, author and creator of books, I became a ‘limited company’ in the 1980’s. The non-fiction books I created and designed had my name printed on the title page along with the author and artist and a blurb on the title page verso. I became ill during the pandemic and decided to close the business – too many problems – and appointed liquidators. No one lost any money as we owned the building and the IP more than covered the debts. The Global Publishing House who bought the IP are now promoting the (Thirty five year old) books as the ‘start of an idea’ stripping all information from the books of their origins – printing in a pale grey in small type – the original name of my company. My name as creator and designer is removed from the title page so that only the writer and the illustrator are credited along with the name of the imprint. I have found this to be an extraordinary development and only managed to engage with the publisher in a conversation by taking a splatter gun approach to copy in professional publishing organisations. Assertion of ‘Moral Rights’ is complex and relates to ‘words & images’ – is this correct? By removing my credit is this an Infringement of the moral right of paternity?

Hello – can the publisher/editor of a respected online literary journal depublish your work for any reason once the work has been accepted and is available online?

And do I have to get every single person’s permission to use or change their name and use and or change some details of their part of the story? It’s about the truth of my mile.

Im not sure what this falls under but I was wondering if I can publish a story about a situation that I and another person had if I change his or her name and some details about it. It’s very important to the books subject matter. It would be a huge missing chunk. Is it ok or do they have the right to say no altogether?

I have a contract with a publisher about the illustrations I did for a book. They are interior illustrations (over 50 total) and by contract they are supposed to credit me. They did not. Do I have any recourse?

What about publishing books with own articles Published in other magazines in different times? Is it legal ? or can cause Self Plagiarism?

Hello, sorry to bother you. Can international students publish independent magazines in the UK, and if so, can they sell them, thank you!

Hi, I have a question.
My friend and I are wanting to start our own news circular (newspaper) in our local town in Georgia, US. And we were pretty hyped about it, until my husband chimed in with the statement that we have to have a publishing license. Do you know if we would have to have one, or anything else legally before starting?

A publishing company put my proof book online without my consent to sell as complete with no mistakes … over 1 month ago, and they did not take right down when I found out … what can i do?

Last year in April ’21 a publisher gave the date for publication of my non-fiction book for the end of April ’22 ; this in the contract. They have taken money, £1250 for a hybrid, They have not given me any reason what-so-ever to think this will be published. When I wrote to them a month ago asking that the contract be voided they threatened to ‘pursue me through the courts!’ “It cannot be voided”

if a writer wrote a book on how to win horse races everytime, saying that its a foolproof guide on how to win and get money and i take my savings and bet and lose my money house and the races can i sue him?

Hi I am starting a magazine and want to feature venues and festivals, do I have to seek permission from them to be in it and use their photo from social media?

My publisher intends to publish a second edition of a county history I authored, and for which I hold copyright. He has told me that he intends to delete the Introduction I included in the original, first edition. Is that legal?

My publisher waited until I had finished writing my book; secured a 5* endorsement, and then hid it and did no publicity, despite this non-fiction work being of global, historical interest. He has since been selling Brand New copies all over eBay and Amazon. I received one royalty payment years ago, and now it is all over web in 5 different names, ensuring no more payments. Please advise. Thank you so much.

Thanks for your comment – this sort of legal problem would need proper legal advice I think. Unfortunately I’m not taking on clients right now and so am not in a position to help.

A retired journalist, I recently wrote an article profiling a B.C. animal rescue organization for a Toronto-based animal rescue foundation. Both organizations are non-profits managed entirely by volunteers. There is no agreement regarding publishing rights. I spent considerable time interviewing, researching and writing the article. The article has now appeared on the Toronto charity’s website. Although I placed my byline on the supplied article, it has been removed. The only credit that appears is to my contact at the charity. The article appears as “edited by [her name],” despite the fact she requested minor edits, which I included. Can I demand that my byline appear on the article or, failing that, that it be removed from the website? Thank you.

This is a question of Canadian law, and so strictly outside my expertise. However, Canada has been a full signatory to the Berne Convention for over 100 years and I understand that the Canadian copyright legislation includes an attribution right reflecting Art 6bis of the Berne Convention. Accordingly, it seems very likely that you have a prima facie right to be credited as author of the article. The question of whether you have a right to have the article taken down is a more complex one, as it would depend upon an analysis of the scope of the licence granted – and if nothing is documented any answer a lawyer might give to that questions is unlikely to be definitive.

Dear Mr. Taylor,
I have a very unusual problem. I’m now self-publishing a book that already had a lawsuit, due to a non-disclosure Agreement I forgot signing, decades ago. The agreement is very bad – stopping me from talking about a group of people who lie under oath or in the name of God. They actually don’t even believe in telling the truth, or in morality. Having no lawyer, I’ll probably lose; but I have no possessions or income except pensions AND I live in a mountain village in Pakistan, AND I’m 82 years old!. So: my printer cannot be sued, but I can. That’s fine; I do not mind losing. My question is, if I defy the court, can my BOOK be forced down? Im the last living witness to the most dreadful behaviour of a very influential person, so Im not afraid of standing alone for the truth. I already told the court ten times that I swear to tell the whole truth IN COURT AND TO THE PEOPLE WHO NEED TO KNOW. The Plaintiff is a lawyer himself, who has lied in court many times; but I cant prove that. The legal prcess seems extremely unfair; but Ill accept anything at all against myself. I want the BOOK to remain after I die.

Sorry – this seems to be primarily a question about enforcement of contractual non-disclosure obligations in Pakistan: not something I have any knowledge or experience of.

Hi, with the consent of the interviewee, I recorded the pictures and audio of several Zoom calls we had. The calls were so I could gather information for a book I would write about that person. Now that person says I can’t use those recordings, which I made using my computer. My questions are: 1. Can I still write a book using the information in the recordings and other information that person provided to me in writing, including photocopies and via Facebook? 2. The plan was the book be in the first person, but now would need to be more biographical, is that ok? 3. Could so use the recordings instead for a personal development book using that person’s stories as examples? Many thanks

Thanks for your questions, Jenny. I’d like to ask a couple of my own. First, was there any written agreement of any kind as to the recording of the calls and/or the purposes for which the call recordings and other material would be used? Second, if there was not, what evidence could you use to support an unwritten agreement regarding recording / use? Third, why does the person in question now object to your use of the recordings?

Someone has published my research work from Iran without my consent. What is my legal obligations in this regard.

Thanks for the question, but I’m not sure I know what sort of help you are looking for here. Please could you elaborate? (Although if this is a question involving Iranian law I will be of little use.)

Hi, I published a book with a company from India about ten years ago . I do not know if they even exist anymore. I have sent correspondence to them many times and searched the internet as to their status and have never heard from them or found anything about them. I never received a cent of royalties from them and since I have no idea if they exist anymore, I was wondering if there could be any possible problems publishing the book with another company?

Hey Alasdair,

I want to ask you that I am a novelist and I am currently working on a novel which is actually a true story and also present in a form of drama I have changed names of all the characters and somethings as well would there be any objection for me if someone came to now this. Is there is a chance that I will be sued. Or the writer of the drama can take action against me??

Answer me please as soon as possible.

There’s always a chance of being sued! I think the real questions in this scenario are: would a potential claimant have a sufficiently arguable case such that there is material risk of them succeeding in a claim? Taking into account the probable strength of such a claim, as well as the other surrounding circumstances, is there a material risk of them bringing a claim?

There is not enough information in your question for me to begin to answer these questions, however. And if there were enough information, I would probably say: you need to take proper legal advice from a lawyer acting on your behalf.

All I can say is that: (i) changing names is not always a good defence against defamation claims, as individuals involved in real events will usually be able to identify themselves and others based on the events themselves; and (ii) if you have copied from a drama, then clearly there may be copyright problems with your work.

When I was working in my previous employer, they gave me a project together with my 3 co-teachers which is to write a book about elementary algebra. The company paid me for the hours it takes me to write the content of the book.  But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish the project before my resignation. My co-Authors continue my part in that book. When it published my name wasn’t there but all my works are there in the book. Do I have the rights to question the publisher why my name is not there? Is there any legal basis about my case? I hope you can help me please.

Does you contract with the previous employer say anything specific about copyright and/or moral rights. Also, in which countries are you and the publisher, and in which countries has the book been published?

As I was in dilemma regarding publication fee, I have asked many times to the editor, but editor didn’t reply. And later they published our article. Now they are forcing me to pay the article publication charge ie., 2660 USD. Being a Indian author, I cannot pay that huge amount for publication. My university declined to pay the fee. The publisher is sending email with legal action on author. Kindly give suggestion or any solution. I am feeling there is no value for research, it became business.

Do I have to publish my trading address in a hard copy magazine which I publish. As I have recently started to work from home, I am reluctant to do so. Would it be sufficient to just publish a contact email address and a contact phone number for my magazine. I have read two similiar questions on this site but cannot find a reply. Thank you in anticipation.

Can I get a court order for the publisher to deliver up the financial records regarding sales of my book. 


There is nothing in the contract and I think I am being ripped off, hence why I want the records which the publisher refuses to give me or any commission statement showing anything. 

I am the author and copyright holder of a book I published recently. A non-profit church would like to print and distribute the book freely in both the ebook and print format to their staff and members. What words should be included in the license or permission granted by the author.?

If a book author interviews someone and they feel that person may be doing something immoral or may harm someone, are they allowed to keep it to themselves so they can put it in their book or must they report it to authorities?


Dear sir can you tell me if my book is not published within the time limit the publisher gives have they broken the contract. I signed in 10/09/2017 and I’m still waiting

I am creating a free online protest zine – containing art, poetry and articles. The zine will not contain any advertising. The zine is against the rise of fascism in the UK – a number of academics, historians and photographers are on board with the project. Can you point me in the direction of any free resources for documents that I can use to ask contributors to sign to say the work is theirs and that they give permission to use their work? Are any other basic docs I should have in place? Thanks for any advice you an give. 

I’m a freelance “content-provider”/ musical arranger based in the state of California who has had numerous “pieces” published by what would seem to be an English publishing and e-commerce “company”, utilizing through a “label”. After  label hseveral Theyears and mulititudes of online publication (company website) the label has since then been defunctionalized and the company has now rebranded, agreeing to rerelease my “pieces” albeit at lower potency for specific purposes. I am somewhat in the “dark” as to whether my “pieces” have had any remarkable effect anywhere and to anywhom, and if at all, profitable. The “label” is somewhat vague when asked for any information regarding previous mentioned inguiries. Would I be too forwarding to ask if any monetary “benefits” were due from the publisher? I have no intention of seeking undue payments from a company’s generosity.

My former employer has an article in a neighborhood publication. In the article there is a testimony from a “recent client”. The article then quotes the review with the name of the customer who wrote it. The problem is the review is a Google review (still on the company’s profile) from 3 years ago and the review had my name mentioned. The author of the article quoted and copied the review word for word but removed my name and changed it to “I recently worked with the team….”. Instead of “I recently worked with Krista….” 

My question is are they allowed to do that? 

Thank you in advance 

… the content of the review, the fact that the review has been reproduced, the mentioning of the customers name, or the editing of the review?

In any case, how long is the review?


I’m writing an autobiography which contains events of other people who were implicated in the event. These people falls in two categories 1) celebrity and 2) non celebrity. An example would be Bill Gates for celebrity and 2) non celebrity would a formal girlfriend of whom is not known yet to the public. Can i publish events that have happened with the celebrity and the non celebrity that have occurred with me? What are the limitations to the kind of content i can publish about each? My content may exist in the following variant 1) the events describing the interaction of the celebrity with only me. 2) the events describing the interaction of the celebrity with a non celebrity of my list. Can I obtain permission to publish their content? If so, how would I go about it?

Holland & Holland in 1996 republished one of my father’s books. I am the sole remaining member of my family. My father died in 1970. I know that no other member of my immediate family gave permission. What recourse do I have?

The first thing I would do in your position is to try to find copies of any contracts between your father and the publisher, and see what they say about: (i) ownership of copyright in the book; and (ii) any licences granted under that copyright.  Do you have copies of any such contracts?

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs here, it is doubtful that it would be worth pursuing any legal action, given the costs – in time and stress, as well as money – of doing so. You might however want to formally terminate the journal’s licence to use the article.

To provide any further guidance I would need to know: what type of journal is this and what type of article? Was the article originally sent on a purely speculative basis? Have you lost out or suffered any financial or other damage as a result of the failure to publish?

Hi Alasdair, 

Is there any regulatory organisation an author can complain to about the conduct of a publisher?

There is no general statutory regulator for UK publishers, but check what organisations the publisher belongs to, and they may have a complaints procedure you could follow. For example, to complain about IPSO members (most UK newspaper and magazine publishers) see: https://www.ipso.co.uk/complain/

In addition, complaints about specific types of issue may be made to the body responsible for those issues. For instance, data protection complaints can go to the ICO (https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/), while advertising-related complaints can go to the ASA (https://www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint.html).

Hello, I was wondering if you can help me to clarify this. My son was dating a much older woman she is a writer she mentioned his name on the book she wrote.  Everything that they had experienced such as romance was exploited.  My son is devastated.  She even mention the name that he goes by on social media  This was all done without his consent. He never gave her authority to mention his name on her book, much less his social media name. Is it this against the law? Please help.

Privacy rights and/or data protection rights may be engaged here. Your son should consult a solicitor specialising in these areas. I’m not able to provide detailed guidance via these blog comments.

I was invited to submit a research article to a so called “academic journal” which I did. I later discovered that this journal is a predatory one. They ended up publishing my article on their website with none of my consent or any copyright agreement. I have been trying to get the article off their website and have threatened legal action to the “journal” if they do not remove my article but have had no response for months.

Could you be able to offer advice on how I can get my article off their website? Is this “journal” in violation of copyright laws as I didn’t sign any agreement? I am really hoping the hard work I put into this article can at least be submitted to a legitimate journal. I also don’t want my scientific reputation to be jeopardized by being associated with this predatory publisher. Any advice is welcome- thank you.

The fact that there is no signed agreement doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no licence to publish. Under English law, a licence of copyright does not usually need to be in writing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there is a valid licence in this case – or, if there is a valid licence, that the licence is not revocable.

To say more I’d need to review all the circumstances of the publication (i.e. take you on as a client of my law firm).

It depends upon the circumstances and the nature of the claim.

In English law, the former statement wouldn’t usually be much help in a clear case of defamation, where the person being defamed can easily be identified.

The second statement is concerned with copyright, and if used appropriately could help rebut a claim that an implied licence (eg to copy) had been granted. However, I would usually let the law decide the extent to which reviewers have rights to quote text.  See: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/exceptions-to-copyright#criticism-review-and-reporting-current-events

Hi Alasdair
I want to publish a monthly newsletter then distribuite  to the public. It all about news, interviews, politics, economics, sports, religions, etc. What procedure I have to follow? Is any regulation/rules?

If the distribuition is free what’s the regulation?

If it’s selling to the public what’s the regulations?

Thanks you for your help.



There are few UK procedural rules that need to be followed in relation to the publication of a newsletter.

All the usual rules on media content (copyright, defamation, contempt etc) will apply. See the Channel 4 Producer’s Handbook, which has a good intro to media law: https://www.channel4.com/producers-handbook/

If you’re selling the newsletter to individuals, you will need to comply with the consumer proteciton laws, potentially including the distance selling rules. See: https://www.gov.uk/online-and-distance-selling-for-businesses

You may also need to comply with the legal desposit rules, as to which see: https://www.bl.uk/legal-deposit  (I’m not sure how vigorously these are enforced…)

The Memo of Agreement re my previous book (on an alternative to the current social welfare system) stated “The Publishers shall have the first opportunity to read and consider for publication the Author’s next work suitable for publication and in the same area or subject as the Work defined and described in this Agreement.”  I have an idea for a new book (a critique of totalitarianism) which another publisher has shown interest in.  I don’t think it’s in the same area as the previous one, unless the term “area” is defined broadly as “politics.” I’d like to proceed with the new publisher but I don’t know if I can, without going through the hoops first with the previous publisher, which would be quite time-consuming. How can I get clarity on this?

 What to do? I found on internet that they publish my book! I am full owner copywriter of it and have all rights as author. The book is selling for 10$ in the stores and 5 on the internet. How to deal with this problem that I found on one web page it is donwloadable for free – can I sue this websites ? Where to find good lawyer for it?

Hi Alisdair 

My Godfather who served as a Captain in WW2, wrote a concise 2 year journal of the beauty of Italy mainly, that he witnessed despite the war. He typed it on his home typewriter and had it bookbound.  When he passed on in 1992, my Godmother passed his book onto me saying that my Godfather wanted me to have it as I’d heard some of his memoirs and found it interesting.

He did not formally publish it except to have his typed journal bookbound.

Am I able to publish this as my Godfather’s memoirs without any legal implications?

To publish the memoirs, you need to own or control the copyright in the text. The ownership of the physical journal does not imply the ownership of the copyright.  Unless copyright was assigned by your godfather during his lifetime, or expressly passed to another person by his will, it will have gone to the person who benefited from his residual estate – possible you godmother. If that is right, you would need your godmother’s permission to publish.

NB there may be other legal implications, but I’m assuming the question here is concerned with the basic right to publish.


I work for a non-profit, An independent author was tasked with writing a whitepaper and we are not happy with the outcomes. We provided feedback and requested edits, which were not respected. The author wants to publish crediting us, and we we asked to be removed as we do not approve of the paper. He insists he wants to use our names. What can we do? 

Thanks very much. 

This is not personally for my benefit, my friend’s family is possibly looking at a local story being published about a member of theirs. A reporter was at the court sentencing, I think they were just there looking for possible stories, but they were asking everyone apart from my friend’s family for all the details. Do reporters, publishers, newspapers have to give a family of the victim’s or the perpetrator’s any warning or ask permission before they make a small incident public knowlegde? 


I have been publishing online journal for quite some time, and one of my main contributors started to ask me to change his old articles, to make them better. It started with changes coming in a week or so and I, from the good faith, approved, but now he is asking to change articles published a few months ago.

Could there arise any legal problem, as, e.g., with the public information act?


I have an idea for a book, mainly illustrative, but I am not an artist nor a publisher and have no experience whatsoever in producing books. 

Can you provide any advice or guidance on where to start / who I should talk to / what I’d need to do?

I am also concerned that if I make my idea known and discuss it with someone, that someone could take my idea and produce a book before me. 

How do I protect my idea?

Thank you very much for your help. 


I want to compile a book made from interviews with consenting parties. It would be a non-fiction. What kind of legal things should I be aware of? I.e, do consenting parties need to sign some kind of release etc? Are they due royalties? 

It is often a good idea to get interviewees to sign a release or consent of some kind. This is especially important where you will be using text or images the copyright in which is owned by the interviewee (or a related person), or where the subject matter of the interview is controversial or sensitive, or where the interviewee or another person could suffer harm as a result of the publication. The potential legal issues are too many and too complex to usefully summarise here, but may include: copyright and other IPR infringement, defamation, privacy / confidential information / data protection, and contempt of court.


My question is one for a publisher. If an author is happy with their book when published, has had the final say in satisfaction with book before printed, and even went so far as to thank the publishing company in the beginning of the book, can this same author come back over two years later and demand a refund for sections of the book that were quoted that she now is not happy with? Mind you, this author never said she was unhappy with any part of the book or the way quotes were used before now and it has now been over two years since the publication/printing of her book. Does she actually have a claim?

There’s not enough information here to comment on whether there might be a legal claim. One key issue is the content of the contract between the author and the publisher. What was agreed formally? Was anything agreed informally?

Hi, I’m designing a magazine for a company I used to work for. Content is provided by them and layout theme is one I used when I worked there. Now that I’m freelancing, does this mean I would own the copyright to the magazine design? or do they own it? Would I be the publisher? Also, I’d like to put my company name and email address somewhere on the magazine (so that I can add it to my portfolio of freelance work) e.g. Magazine designed by… But the client doesn’t want me to do this (they’re basically trying to make out it’s pubished in-house (even though it’s not!). Any advice would be much appreciated. Many Thanks.

You should consult a solicitor about this – it’s not the sort of thing that I can give useful advice on here.

two local publications have recently been set up neither has a publishing address  and one only has an email that is never answered 

I need a question answered. I have a client who had her book published by an “unnamed” company. The company has published her book, however in thevery front of the book, said publishing company states that the work was copyrighted. We have searched for this copyright within the search engines of the Library of Congress and we have found out that her book has not been copyrighted at all. When she found this out, the terminated her contract. They also decided not to relinquish her book and they have been stealing her royalty money for all the sales that she have made. She seeked our help to possibly fix her current issue.

My question is:

Is it against the law to say that you copyrighted a book, print it in the book, and then not actually copyright it? Is it punishable? Does she have a case?


I’m curious about the use of historical information in the construction of a fictional work. If one changes names and slightly alters the particulars of someone’s life, what legal remedies are available to those who may have an interest in the publication. So, say someone wants to write about a relative, now dead, who had an interesting life, but that same author wants to embellish at their leisure. Is this an actionable offense? Is it an offense at all? By “interest” I mean someone who, say, is a child of someone who is the main character of a novel. Is there any law that states the person in control of one’s estate has a say in what information can be used, when and where?

This is one of the precise things I’d like to know about too. Unfortunately, I don’t think messages are being replied to very often on this website at the moment. Yet it seems to be one of the few places where these issues are discussed. I’m hoping we will get a reply before too long.

… for the current lack / delay of responses to comments. With the GDPR coming into force in a couple of months, I don’t currently have time to answer anything but the most straightforward questions.

Dear Alasdair

What an excellent site, and much needed.

I want to write a novel based on a true-crime case. All the main participants are deceased now and I appreciate that you can’t defame the dead or invade their privacy. However, as the crime took place in the late 1940s, it’s possible that close relatives of the protagonists are still alive. My question is whether it is possible to invade their privacy simply by writing about something in their family’s past they would rather forget?

Another option is to write up the same crime case as non-fiction. Are the privacy considerations very different in the case of fiction vs non-fiction? I understand that changing details i  a fictional account can afford some protection against privacy issues but in this case it’s the details that make the story compelling, so it will defeat the object of the exercise if I have to alter them too much.

Last year I published a non-fiction book about a Victorian crime and I’ve been contacted by two relatives of that perpetrator, in a friendly way, just to say they appreciated the book, but it makes me mindful that family memories are very long.

Many thanks for any guidance.



I’m researching a topic for a college seminar paper that revolves around the question, “Why don’t books come with content advisories like movies, music, TV programs, video games, radio, etc?”

These other media have the FCC, not exactly as oversight, but as the knuckle-cracker who fines/penalizes them when they violate legistated decency standards. If the publishing industry has one, I can’t find it. Is there one? If there is, does it operate similarly to the FCC? 

Hi Alasdair, 

I want to publish the work of my ancestor, his memoirs were published in the US but in Russian in 1953 – year of his death. The publishing house that published his memoirs back then has been closed for decades. Does my family owns the right to his memoirs or is there anything in particular that I’m missing and should consider doing before proceeding with the publication? 

It’s often difficult to establish the subsistence and ownership of historical copyright works, particularly where multiple jurisdictions are involved. You would need to take professional advice on this sort of question.

Hello Alasdair,

I help to publish a local hard-copy parish magazine (12 – 16 A5 pages) which is delivered to 200+ households in Cumbria. It includes the usual sort of local news/events and local traders adverts (up to six). One or two readers have asked if I can email them a copy. This is fine with me, however, I have been advised that as the content includes advertisements I can’t distribute it by email – is this right?

I’ve read your 10 tips above and will add disclaimers in future editions – we already acknowledge all contributors as a matter of courtesy.

Thanks for your time


Hi Don,

If we assume that this would be treated by the law as a direct marketing communication, then you are nonetheless able to send it by email if you have consent. By asking for the magazine to be sent by email (and presumably providing email addresses) the individuals in question have consented. Strictly, you should give them the opportunity to opt-out from further issues each time you send them an email.  You should also keep evidence of the consents I suppose.

A local newspaper has published pictures of my affected property in their paper and on line.

They have stated the property is unoccupied allowing all to be aware of this.

I live 4 hours away. I am disgusted that they have advertised that my property as unoccupied and vulnerable.

Can they legally publish these details without my consent?

Thank you

I think there is a reasonable argument there that a specific disclosure that the house is empty could be data protection breach (or alternatively a privacy brach). It does depend however on exactly what information is included in the article and how the prejudice to you balances against the public interest. For background regarding data protection and journalism, see:


For more detail see:


The first thing to do would be to write to them, suggesting that there might be a legal issue here, and asking that they amend the article.

I work for a local newspaper. I’m (in theory) the head writer on the staff, the first three pages of each issue are 100% my writing. I’ve been working there for a while but I am still not listed on the masthead. Not even as a contributor? I’ve mentioned this to the owner who assured me that this would be resolved (weeks ago), but each week a new paper comes out and I’m still not listed. Is this legal?

Dear Alasdair Taylor,

I remember something vaguely from highschool about publishing artwork and whatnot, and one of the things I’ve heard is that your content can’t exist in the public already. E.G if you made art image and posted it online, it’s no longer valid to publish because it’s already been distributed for free. Is this true?

Hi Alasdair, I have written a book on a music band around tours they did in the USA over the years. Most of the text is taken from other sources like internet sites, books, interviews, and newspaper reports etc. I have written the text in my own words and am using photos from fans that have given me permission to publish, so is mostly a photographic book with accompanying text. Do I need permission from band to self publish this book? Thanks.

Nothing in your comment suggest that you definitely need the band’s permission, but: (i) text being “taken from other sources” could be an issue, depending upon the extent of the rewriting; and (ii) I would need much more information (most likely, to skim read the book and discuss the details with you) to given you an assurance that you do not need permission.

The text I am using are quotes that have been published and used in books and documentaries for years, as this tells the story in the bands own words throughout the book. Text I have re-written is my interpretation of what has previously been written by authors in the past, with info which has also been known about for years, though is essential to the timeline of the new book. 

I was on the Jeremy Kyle show last year and they have recently aired it again.  I now found out that when it was re-aired a magazine has published about it, but I didn’t give then any right to do so. I was just wondering if I could sue or ask them to take it down? Thank you.

Do you have a contract with the production company? If so, what does it have to say about the matter?

Hello Alasdair.

I’d like to thank you for extensive advice given here, and I would like to ask a somewhat dubious question.

Several days ago, whilst on holiday, some people were given the key to my hotel room for the sole purpose of obtaining anti-mosquito wipes.

However, they have found my private, unpublishable diary, underneath a different book, read parts of it, taken photos of it and showed it to different people, maybe even posted it online.

It has caused a great personal rift, and they do not accept responsibility for their actions and are laying the blame solely on me for putting in writing certain things.

I repeat, this was never intended to be published in any way, shape or form.

Any advice on how I should proceed?

Many thanks in advance.

There are potential legal claims here, but how you should proceed depends upon what you want to achieve.

Is it necessary for a publisher to be a registered company/sole trader, or can you just nominate a title for the publisher e.g. Blah Blah Blah books? The stigma of self-publishing would therefore be averted.

As a matter of English law, it’s not necessary to run a publishing business through a company.

If you do it as an individual, however, your are doing it as a “sole trader”.  Sole traders do often use a trading name, and this is permissable. When choosing a name you need to check the law on business names and ensure that you don’t infringe anyone else’s trade marks.

NB to be clear, all businesses – including sole traders – do need to register with HMRC.

For more info, see:


I have always considered the publish date and time essential to maintain in news items. Are there any aspects of law which support this? For example, updating an older news item, one would not update the publication date to the current date of the update, but retain the original published date and time. 

There is no rule of English law that requires the inclusion of dates/times on news items. However, you are right to suppose that there may be legal implications of including – or not including – dates/times.   In the example you give, dates affect meaning, and meaning affects defamation claims. Another example: dates on publications may be evidence in copyright infringement claims.

Sorry if this has been asked before but I’m interested in the fact that the British Library has a the legal right to one free copy of every published work in the UK.  Their own site defines ‘published’ as being made available to the public – so, not dependent on having an ISBN number, or the print run, or the price, but whether or not it has been disseminated to the public.  I’m just wondering what this means in terms of, for instance, photographers creating photobooks.  If they have 50 printed to give away to friends and family, does this mean it is published?  Does the library get to demand a copy?  If they print 50 and mean to give 20 to family and hopefully sell the rest, has it been published?  How do you determine when a book has been ‘made available to the public’?

Thank you! 

For the statutory definition of “publication”, see the Legal Desposit Libraries Act 2003, s14: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/28/section/14.

Without doing some research, I’m not 100% sure of the strict legal position here. I’d guess the phrase “issue of copies of the work to the public” has the same meaning as in s16(1) of the CDPA (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/section/16).

On any case, I doubt the British Library would welcome a broad interpretation universally applied!

I wrote 2 Family Registers that contain family details and photos of persons as from 1700 up to 2015. I have printed a book but want to put this now on a blog or website. Is this legal as it contain photos of persons, gravestones etc in the book with full names, date of birth, date of death (if applicable) etc.

It’s not really possible to give a good answer to this sort of general enquiry about the legality of a publication.  Publishers will typically do a pre-publication legal review (ie have a lawyer read the work, and provide a written report with suggested amendments) where they think there are possible issues with a book. Possible legal issues with the sort of book you describe might include: (i) copyright in photographs taken by others; (ii) rights of privacy for living persons, especially children; and (iii) depending upon whether there is any commercial or non-domestic angle, data protection rights. One way to deal with many of these sorts of issues is consent.

Hi, I have recently discovered an online publication has used my story and full name in an article they have done about a famous person. I was not asked permission or made aware that they would do this. Is this allowed? 

Can a media be sued by publishing an online article from a company proving that one of their competitors has lied about some of their statements?

I’m not entirely sure I understand the question here, but perhaps these points will help:

(i) almost anyone can be sued by almost anyone – the real question is whether a potential claimant has a good case

(ii) in legal terms it seems unlikely that an article could “prove” very much here – although the evidence upon which the article is based, once presented in court, might offer some kind of proof

(iii) a claim that someone is a liar is on the face of it defamatory, and might ground a legal action

(iv) if the claim is true, and you can prove this to the requisite standard, then the defence of “justification” may well apply 


Could you please kindly advice me regards the following confusions I have.

1. Do I need to have a license for online / printed magazine?

2. Can I produce magazine under an event company as it’s related to it?

3. What kind of licence do I have to apply for it and what other legal regulations do I have to follow in order to run a free online magazine? 

Really appreciate your help.



In the UK, you don’t need a governmental licence to publish a magazine.  There’s no particular reason why an event company couldn’t publish a magazine. Although there is no licensing requirement, there are a great many laws you need to follow when publishing a magazine or indeed engaging in any business venture – too many to recount here.


Thanks for the reply, So I don’t need licence for print or online magazine.

What are the main laws that need to be covered, could you be kind enough to give in bulletpoint so Ican do the research and get going.  

Also what kind of contracts I have to prepare to collaborate with photographers, models, and vendors and with advertising companies?

Please advise.



Hi Alasdair,

My publisher has invited talks over possibly looking at rights reversion (for a novel). I’ve asked for a copy of my signed contract as one wasn’t provided on signing, but I’ve not been provided with one since. We’re sent the contract over email, asked to print, sign, then return it to the publisher for them to sign. They then usually provide a copy, showing both signatures on the contract (I’m in the UK, they’re in the US).

They have since said they’d still like to look at getting the work through production as they look at the rights reversion, but could I be within my right to wait working edits with them until I have proof of the contract with them?

That’s a difficult one.

If the document that you signed specifies that the contract only comes into force when they provide you with the signed copy, then as things stand there may currently be no contract, so no contractual restrictions upon what you can and cannot do.

If (more likely, I guess) the contract is silent as to exactly when it comes into force, then one would usually expect that to happen upon the signaure of the second party.

Does the contract contain any specific or general obligations that might be interpreted as requiring the publisher to provide a copy? General co-operation obligations are not uncommon in general commercial contracts, but can’t recall seeing such a clause in a standard publishing contract.

As so often, I think I’d need to see the contract and discuss the circumstances to provide any useful guidance here. The best answer here is likely to be based on practical considerations as much as legal ones.

Dear Alasdair,

I would be very grateful for some advice.

My partner died 7 years ago, and left everything to me in his will.  This included his (unpublished) novels.  I would now like to publish these under his real name (as he wished).  When citing the copyright, should I use my name or his?  If mine, how would I date it – the date it passed to me or the date the work was finished? 

Thank you for any help you are able to give.

As you are the copyright owner, a copyright notice should use your name not his.  The data in a UCC style copyright notice is the date of first publication.  Eg This comment is (c) Alasdair Taylor 2017.

We are a non-profit group who publish a quarterly magazine; for convenience we would like to license another group to run our back-number service. Would such a licence agreement cause an issue over authors’ copyright? Both organisations are companies limited by guarantee.

For several years an article i was asked to write has been available internationally online, with my name fully attributed as author.  i gave permission for this but i was not paid for the article and photographs included in it.  i recently wrote to the website it is published on and asked for it to now be removed for personal reasons.  they have refused. i have written and requested politely several times and they continue to refuse my request.  what is my position on this?  how do i go about enforcing my rights to my own attributed work and having the page removed from the site?  i am in the UK, the site is based in switzerland.  thank you for any help.

The legal question here is whether the licence that you granted to the publication is terminable without cause. If there are any written licensing terms, they should answer the question. If not, then an English judge looking at the issue would consider (a) the circumstances surrounding the original instruction and publication, together with (b) practice in the relevant industry and (c) any course of dealing, in order to decide the point. As I have no particular knowledge of (a), (b) or (c), I’m not in a position to guess what might be the outcome. Also, it may be that Swiss law rather than English law is critical here.

Hi Alasdair,

I publish a small independent quarterly ‘trade’ journal, a guide to regulations and operations in the service garage industry, mailed and emailed out to paid subscribers.

We recently became aware of an article printed in the house journal of a major motor industry organisation, and attributed to the chief executive of yet another trade organisation. This article is, as far as I can tell, a word for word copy of an article which we ran in a recent issue, written by our staff writer.

What sanctions are appropriate, against the publication and / or the ‘author’ who is falsely claiming to have written the article?

Many thanks.

Hi Martin,

This sounds like a fairly clear case of copyright infringement, and also potentially an infringement of the moral right of paternity.

Assuming your staff writer is an employee or has assigned copyright to your organisation, then your organisation should hold the copyright.

In this sort of case, there are 2 different ways in which basic damages may be calculated: on the basis of damage done to the copyright owner; or on the basis of a reasonable licence fee. In both cases the total is likely to be modest.

However, in cases of deliberate infringement, additional damages may be awarded for flagrancy. This looks like a useful case here:


In addition to damages, you may be entitled to an injunction to prevent any ongoing infringement.

PS Please treat the above with caution: I’m making various assumptions which, if incorrect, might lead to different conclusions.

I am student of 11-12th science and I am interested to start small unit based student magazine for our friend circle. So I want or know minimum requirements for license to our magazine.

Hello there,

I have published a series of academic books which I also formatted and then gave to my professional institute to publish. There is no publishing agreement between us. The title verso is very clear that I own all of the copyright and that is not to be reproduced in any format. I have subsequently found out that my material (substantially copied) l has made its way into a ‘study book’ aimed at students. Do I have recourse to ask the publisher of the study book to stop selling it? What remedies do I have as the owner of the original content? Thank you.

Just to be clear: is the publisher of the study book a different organisation to the publisher of the original series?

If they are different organisations, are you aware of any relevant relationship between them?

Maybe I digress from the issue. Anyway, could you help me with the following. My research paper was published as a conference paper. I signed the copyright and according to it the publisher is a copyright holder. Now, I found that the abstract of my paper is written (literally) on the website of some organization. On the publisher’s website the abstract is open and can be copied with no restriction and no payment. So, as I understand it the abstract is considered as an open access publication and can be borrowed by any person without my and publisher’s permission. Correct? Or there is some regulations which can protect my abstract from free usage? 

The public availability of a copyright work does not amount to a general licence for others to use.

The extent to which third parties can use the work may depend upont the publisher’s website or service T&Cs. What do they say about this?

If you have assigned all the copyright to the publisher, then it is the publisher that has the right to bring proceedings against a third party infringer, not you (although you may still have limited “moral rights”.)

If a man wrote a book, and then he died after that without a will, after 30 years his wife found it and gave it to publisher to publish, any copyright issue?

I’d need lots more information to give any guidance I’m afraid – the question is too open and potentially too complex for dealing with in blog comments.

Hi Alasdair, I can’t get my head around the question how to get photographers, artist or any other source printed in my own magazine? Let’s say I would like to create my own magazine (maybe just 100 copies, sold online). While doing that I get in contact with photographers or graphic artist in my niche asking if I’m allowed to print pictures of their work in my magazine. What are the “rules”? What is the common process / scenario? It has to be a similar scenario for bloggers and social media influencers (first ask for permission, second mention source under image etc.). Thanks for your help in advance, Daniel. 

Hi Daniel – thanks for your question.

There are various ways of getting permission, depending upon the context.

First, assuming the original creator has retained the relevant rights, you could get permission from them. That might be just an email saying you can reprint, or it might be a more formal permissions letter, or even a copyright licence agreement.

Second, the original creator may have granted to others the right to sub-licence. A good example of this would be stock photography, where the stock photo company can grant you the right to use an image. This would usually be on standard licensing terms.

Third, somewhere between the above two options, you might be able to get a direct permission via a digital marketplace. Again, usually standard licensing terms will apply.

Fourth, the creator may have made the works available under a Creative Commons or similar licence – here use will be free, but may be subject to specific conditions such as attribution.

Fifth, works that are out of copyright in all relevant jurisdictions don’t need permission.

If a publisher prints and sells thousands of copies of a book after the licence has expired, what are the legalities? Does the author have a valid claim against the publisher? Can agents take commission on the books they knew were sold after the licence ran out and the agents no longer acted for the author?

The printing and distributtion of copies of a book that is protected by copyright, after the termination of a licence, would usually constitute copyright infringement. It may also be a breach of the contract under which the licence was granted.

To get a definite opinion on this, however, a lawyer would need to review the contract in question and discuss all the circumstances with you.

Hi Alasdair

I work for an architectural firm, and like all design companies we have articles written about us in magazines, newspapers and online journals. Are we infringing on copyright laws by hosting these articles on our own website?

I would appreciate some guidance on this matter, as I don’t know if we need obtain separate permissions from all publishers or a singular multi-use licence.



If I published my own version of a third book in a fiction trilogy, rather famously left incomplete for decades, and made it free to download, and also made it public domain and copyright-free, could I be held liable for copywright infringement, or any other infringement?

Hi Alasdair

I have produced a photographic novel about mental illness. It has two general aspects, personal and cultural. The story contains my copyright images including nudes of a model who possed and gave verbal permission to exhibit the images at the time (35 years ago) in exchange for a reciprocal arrangement with me posing naked for her. We are both artists.

How do I publish today without going to gaol; as getting written permission is now no longer possible?

I am part of a committee that hosts an annual conference. We contract with a third party to design, layout, and produce a conference program. An industry magazine has published this content without expressed permission and distributed it onsite to attendees. Some of the information published is inaccurate causing confusion for attendees. Also it is clear they have made profit from sponsors and advertisements. There is nothing in their publication that differentiates the content (in other words they have no unique info). Have they violated copyright law? Is there any legal action we can or should take?

Thanks for your question.

The first question here is: who owns the copyright in the conference program? As it was created by a third party, then the third party would likely be the first owner – so has that third party assigned the copyright to your organisation?

It seems likely that the reproduction of the program amounts to copyright infringement, although I would want to see a copy of the original and the copy before stating this with certainty.

If your organisation is the copyright owner, and copyright has been infringed, then your organisation is likely to be entitled to bring proceedings against the infringer. If your organisation is a licensee, then its entitlement to bring an action will in part depend upon the terms of the licence and the operation of the applicable copyright legislation.

NB copyright infringement proceedings, professionally conducted, can be expensive.


If you’ve self-published a novel under pen name then later change the title and publish under your own name, do you have to put in the front of the second one that it was previously published under another title?

I’ve recently shared my story with a local paper, only to find that it’s appeared – without my permission – in the Mirror. Given the subject matter I rather expected clickbait sites to pick it up because that’s rather inevitable, but The Mirror have never approached me, and the story was an exclusive to my local paper. They also used the photographer’s original photographs, twisted things to make it seem like I’d been abused by a family member in my childhood and generally destroyed what I had set out to do. Can I take any legal action against them?

There may be a cause of action here. Defamation is the most obvious candidate, although there are other possibilities. You should discuss the matter with a solicitor specialising in media law. NB even if there is a cause of action, that doesn’t always mean it is a good idea to pursue the matter.

I have a new venture that allows members of the public to create and purchase decks of game cards online. The product is meant to be for groups of friends, sports teams etc. We have clearly published Terms and Conditions that state that users should only use images that they have the rights to and the user has to tick a box to say they agree to the terms and conditions before they are able checkout the product.

I’ve notice people have started creating decks with images where the rights are clearly held by large entertainment companies. I can ‘catch’ these orders at the moment, but as the product grows my production system is designed that there is very little human contact and I’m worried some might slip through. If successful, I will not be able to manually check every order.

Who would liable in this case for infringing on copyright or image rights? Is it still us as a publisher? or is the user effectively self publishing? Are we just a platform that allows people to generate content, much like youTube and we have to act only once asked to by the rights holder?

Many Thanks,


You could be liable here, as well as the person uploading the image. In UK law, the usual Ecommerce Regs defences (hosting, caching, mere transmission) would not cover all the infringing acts here. You should consider taking proper advice on this, with a view to minimising the risks.

Hi Alisdair. My Rotary Club is producing a programme of a community awards event. The work will all be done by members of the Rotary Club. Is it legally necessary to state who published/printed the programme? If it is I was thinking of the name of the club and the address of the secretary.

As per my previous answer, there is no requirement regarding printers. Nor is there a UK legal requirement regarding the identification of publishers, although I can think of a number of good reasons for including the publisher’s name with a publication. These include: (a) providing evidence of publishing responsiblity; (b) identifying the person to contact for permissions (cf orphaned works); and (c) including a UCC copyright notice.

There is no legal requirement under UK law for a printed magazine that is published in the UK to specify the name of the printer.

My contract with my UK publisher was officially rescinded on 17.02.16 but the book is still being offered for sale on Amazon and the publisher is ignoring requests to remove it. 

What can I do? 

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.


Was the contract rescinded or terminated? There is a difference.

The first thing to check (especially in the case of termination) would be the terms of the contract itself. Publishing contracts often provide expressly for what will happen to the work after termination.

Also, are the copies for sale ebooks or hard copies?

Hi Alasdair,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. The contract was rescinded after I bought back my rights. The publisher has a right to sell existing copies for 6 months. The book, however, is print on demand. Amazon would need to send the order to the printer for it to be printed and dispatched. I am in touch with the printer and have satisfied them that the publisher no longer has the right to sell and they have canceled the current ISBN number. The book remains on Amazon and orders can still be placed. 

Dear Alasdair,

if a website has a section which publishes articles, can we name such section ‘magazine’ or ’emagazine’ – or are there any legal requirements to use that terminology?

Thank you

There are specific no issues arising under English law that would arise out of the naming of part of a website as a “magazine” or “emagazine”.

Hello, I published a book with a company, I paid for the publishing, but after the publication, I was told I have to buy my books from them at a discount price, while they will do the selling and pay me royalty. It is over 2 years since. There is no record of royalty and they keep calling me to give them money to market my book. Please what can I do?

Is there a written contract with the publisher? If so, what does it say about these matters?

Also, are you and the publisher in the UK?

It seems likely that this is an infringement of your copyright, although I would anticipate that your rights to damages (under English law) might be very limited, and consequently the matter may not be worth persuing beyond correspondence.

Dear Sir, I have a book which has been co-authored by another. It has been in publication with his and my consent for 10 months now. He himself did the German translation and so the book has been in publication in Germany since the summer. He has become angry with me and so has asked Amazon to take his half out of the printed version and his name off the title. He has issued his half of the book as a free pdf. Is this all legal under these circumstances?

To give any guidance here, I’ll need a little more information.

Did you have any written agreement with the co-author? If yes, does it say anything that may be relevant to your current situation? If no, was there any kind of informal agreement?

Regarding your work, to what extent was it intermingled/inseparable? Did he translate your work into German?

Regarding Amazon, are they really interested in editing the text of works?

Finally, why has he become angry with you?

Hi, can I use names and content from other websites on my own website, such as innovations, new discoveries and the names of people who participated?

There are circumstances where using names and content from other websites may be legally problematic. I’d need more information to give any useful guidance.

For example, somebody discovered a new technology and quite a few websites are writing about it, can I also write about it in my own words? My website is in non-English language.

Thank you. 

Under English law, this usually wouldn’t be a problem.

(If you are not writing in English, it may be that the relevant law is not English law. However, on the whole, copyright law as embodied in various international instruments does not prevent this sort of thing, providing you are taking facts/ideas rather than the detailed forms of their expression.)


My daughter sadly passed away March 2014. I recently spoke to a newspaper to create awareness of Toxic Shock Symdrome.  My daughter died as a result of a bleed to her brain following sepsis, there is no medical evidence to suggest she died of TSS due to using tampons. However, she had the same strain of bacteria in her blood that is connected to TSS.

Since the initial article, other publishers have used it and published on line and in the paper about my daughter.  One in particular has taken photos from my Facebook of my daughter and another little girl and have also stated that she died of TSS after using tampons.

This has caused a lot of upset for my family and my daughter’s friends. I have emailed the publication and requested an apology and asked them to take the article down. Can I take legal action if this isn’t done?

Thank you for your question, Diane.

On the basis of the information you have provided, there is no obvious English law cause of action that will help you here. I don’t think the requirements of defamation or malicious falsehood will be satisfied.

One possible line of attack would be through the photographs. You may be able to argue that the use of the photographs infringed copyright, or possibly privacy-related rights. However, I would need more information about the photographs and the circumstances of their use to give more guidance here.

Hello, I would like to know if I can stop a newspaper form publishing a news article where still the court has yet to give its final decision.

The law on the reporting of ongoing court cases is somewhat complicated.

For general background, see:


For an outline of the law, see:


As you can see, it’s not possible to say whether any given reporting is lawful without lots of information. Accordingly, you would need to discuss the specifics of the situation with a suitably qualified lawyer in order get an answer to your question (although even if the reporting is prohibited, enforcement may be a matter for the authorities rather than you).

Hello Alasdair,

I am a YouTuber and Blogger. For a new series on my channel, I would like to use images of fashion items, cut out of magazines, and talk about these.

I would like to know if I am legally allowed to show images I have cut from the magazines, and then potentially make money from these videos. 


Hi Emily – This may well infringe copyright in the images. Depending upon exactly what you are doing, you may sometimes be able to rely upon the “fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review” defence. However, even where the defence might be available, there is usually a lot of uncertainty about what exactly it covers. Might you be able to get permission to use the images?

Also consider: https://seqlegal.com/blog/product-photography-and-copyright-law

Hi Alasdair,

Thanks so much for your reply. 

I think I will try to get permission to use the images, or re think my ideas! 


What are the legal boundaries/restrictions when it comes to repurposing content, such as newspaper articles and blog posts, into audio form for a podcast? 

Reading the text from a newspaper article or blog post and creating an audio file of this would – in the absence of permission or one of the copyright defences applying – usually be copyright infringement.


I wrote several articles for an online magazine, which also printed a ‘best of’ edition quarterly.  My contributions were unpaid, and there was never any contract, written or verbal.  Do I have the right to submit these articles to other publications for publishing?

Thanks ever so.

If this is a question determined by English law, then more likely than not you retain ownership of the copyright in the articles and have not granted an exclusive licence. In other words, you do have the right to submit the articles to other publications.

However, I’m hesitant to go beyond “more likely than not”.

Why not ask the online magazine this question? Perhaps you think there is a risk of them saying “no”? If you think there is such a risk, why do you think that?

There may be some specific relevant factor that you haven’t mentioned. For example, it may be the magazine’s published policy that rights are exclusively granted. Or exclusivity could be an industry norm in your field, to the extent that some degree of exclusivity might be an implied term of the licence.

Even knowing all the circumstances, I might not be able to give you a 100% definitive opinion. Generally, it’s best to have a written contract in these situations.

Hiya, I was just wondering if I was to publish a play or book in which another person helped create small sections would they need to be involved in the publishing process too and, if so, to what extent?  I wrote the vast majority of it and purely don’t want all my work to be said to be theirs. ty

If the contribution of the other person was (a) of the right type (eg writing text); and (b) sufficiently substantial (ie more than short banalities), then it is likely that they would need to be involved in the publishing process, at a minimum by granting you a licence relating to their work that permits you to seek a publisher etc. You might also want to ask them to waive any moral rights they may have in relation to their contribution.

Hi Alasdair,

I have written a chapter for an edited academic book. Its principal topic is the history of an English company and the growth of one of its brands in particular. In the chapter, I would like to refer to several advertisements produced by the company and include these as figures if possible. I have spoken to the company’s legal counsel regarding use of the images. They are happy for me to use them providing the publisher signs an agreement that references to the brand and the advertisements will be used only “in a factual sense” and that the brand will not be “denigrated” in the chapter. They also want the publisher to agree to submit the chapter to the company before publication, presumably so they have a right to pull the images and references to the brand if they think these are “denigrating”.

I appreciate the company’s ownership of the images and their right to refuse copyright permission for these. However, I am surprised they also demand to be able to check over references to the brand. If the chapter was published without the advertisements but with commentary on the brand that was “critical” only in a strictly academic sense, would I/the publisher be taking a risk, or would we be protected by some version of “honest opinion”? The chapter does not set out to be a hatchet job, but it also not a hagiography. It is rather done in the spirit of free academic enquiry. To use a basic example, the chapter might note the obvious sexism of a particular advert, albeit one published in the 1960s. Do I really need to seek the permission of the brand’s owner to make this observation in a published work?

Your thoughts would be most appreciated. Thank you for running this helpful page and continuing to respond to enquiries.

Thanks for your question John.

It’s been a while since I have looked in detail at the “fair dealing” exceptions which can protect against copyright infringement under UK copyright law in these sorts of circumstances, and so can’t give any definite guidance without some research.

You should  have a look at the “fair dealing” exceptions, and fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review in particular. Depending upon the circumstances there might also be arguments to be made under the news reporting and/or new quotations exceptions. See:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/section/30 (note the recent changes, not yet incorporated into the main body of the section)


http://www.dacs.org.uk/knowledge-base/factsheets/fair-dealing (for background – this doesn’t take into account the new exceptions)

Regarding libel and corporations, there is now a useful limitation on their right to sue, set out in s1 of the 2013 Defamation Act.  See:


Upon writing and publishing a family history book, is it permissable to add living persons’ details such as names and dates of birth, marriage etc? Your advice would be most appreciated. Kind regards Mrs Carol Korlevic.

There is no general legal prohibition on this, but there are specific rules of law (eg data protection, privacy laws and defamation law) which can, depending upon all the circumstances, intrude. The easiest way to avoid risk is to get written consent from the people involved.

The question (for an English lawyer at least) isn’t whether there is a right, but whether there is a prohibition.

Does the publishing agreement you signed say anything (or imply anything) about the publication date?

If there is nothing helpful in the agreement, another approach would be to look at whether the backdating amounted to a negligent misstatement or a malicious falsehood.

There may be other potentially relevant torts, but I cannot think of any right now.

Hi Alasdair,  

My ex-wife wrote a book about the circumstances around the death of our eldest son from cancer. I also wrote some parts in it and some of my photographs were used; I was never asked to sign anything to do with this. The book was published and my name taken off while I was in a rehab centre recovering from alcoholism. I came out and discovered all this and that the book had been published. Over the past 3 years people who have been spoken of in the book (whose names were changed but everyone knows who is being referred to) have approached me saying they not happy with her portrayal of them.  My mother has also only recently told me she is deeply upset by this book and fears her grandchildren will believe things written about her. It has taken me all these years to finally bring myself to read this book and I now would like to know where I stand legally in getting this off the shelves. The book is available on Amazon, WH Smith etc .

Yours sincerely,


There are a range of different legal issues here. For example:

  • To what extent do you retain control over your copyright in your contributions?
  • Is the book defamatory of you or anyone else mentioned in the book?
  • Have any rights of privacy been infringed?
  • Have you consented the publication of otherwise actionable material?

It’s not possible to give any sensible advice on these issues without a review of the book and a good deal of background information – in other words, you need a solicitor.

Getting a publisher to withdraw a book is not easy. This type of book is – if published by one of the big publishers – likely to have been subject to a pre-publication legal review. The publisher may already have taken the view that the financial benefits of publication outweigh the legal risks. Material considered especially risky may already have been removed from the book or modified.

You should instruct a specialist solicitor to write to the publisher, setting out the legal basis of your objections to the work. If you would like the name of a solicitor who may be able to help, please send me an email or contact me via this website’s contact form.

There is no general English law concept of a publisher (although the concept does exist in particular areas of law, eg defamation), and there is no special permit or status required in order to produce, print and distribute a newsletter or other printed work.

You can specify that a committee is the publisher, but assuming the committee doesn’t have any separate legal identity that would not take legal responsibility for publication out of your (and presumably the other committee members’) hands.

Hello Alasdair,

I am chair of a regional professional body and a committee of my members is organising a short newsletter to send by post to about 60 member organisations?  I have a printer, but do I legally need a publisher? If so can the publisher be the ‘Communications Committee’?

I have changed my real name to protect my identity. I have just self published a book in the category of general fiction but it is in essence a misery style memoir about a real family. Most events and characteristics in the book are real. All names and occupations have been changed.

One of the characters has identified himself and is making threats about defamation by anonymous text saying he will get a lawyer onto me and I will lose everything. He has a mental illness and tried to bring his father’s business down. I think he is acting maliciously not out of any genuine harm to himself from my book. He only stumbled across my book by accident when I accidentally sent him a linked-in invitation. My book has only sold 18 copies. It is not going to be in any book shops; just on Amazon. Your advice would be welcomed. 

Sorry, but I would need a lot more info about the book and your particular circumstances in order to give any advice here, and as a result I cannot provide this sort of advice via the website.

Dear Alasdair,

I have a contract with an academic publisher who have still not published my book, now over 2 years after the time agreed in the contract. They do not respond to emails.  Can I threaten to sue them? Thank you so much for your help!

If the requirement to publish within the relevant period was clearly stated in the contract, then you should certainly consider threatening them with legal action – but it may be difficult to make a threat sound credible without asking a solicitor to write the letter for you, and if they are not even responding to emails I’d be surprised if this would have much effect.

What sort of data and information? In what sense is it fake? And for what purpose is that data and information being used in the resource books? Is there / could there be a special disclaimer highlighting that the data and information is fake?

Printing incorrect middle names, getting birth year wrong, getting sequences of events wrong.  Then reprinting the information twice more in later editions of the series of books and still having the information incorrect. The books are suppose to be a educational resource book and advertised as a reserach aid to check background information. 

If, for example, the fake information caused damage to someone’s reputation, there might be an actionable defamation.

However without knowing all the details, I can’t give a definitive answer.

On the whole it seems that it is unlikely that the publisher’s actions are illegal or otherwise actionable.

Sorry last question,  when you say causes damage to someone reputation, can you be more specific?  By changing a person personal profile, implying that they have lied, creating doubts and gaps within their work history, is that considered damaging someone reputation? 

Dear Alasdair 

Is it ethical or legal for a publishing company to publish fake data and information within educational resource books created for schools and education organisations? 

Does a publisher (for commercial gain) need the consent of living people who are in photographs he wishes to publish?

There exists a situation where an individual, somewhat covertly through social media, obtained names & details of vintage photographs with a view to selling them online. This has upset a number of people featured in the photos, and they wish for this not to happen.

If consent is not required, can royalties be claimed (as a deterrent?) Or is it a lost cause?

Thank you

Depending upon the nature of a photographic image of the person and the circumstances of its publication, there may in principle be a breach of the Data Protection Act 1988 or an infringement of confidentiality or the right of privacy.

These arguments were famously made in the Campbell v MGM case. For a summary, see:


You will need to ask a lawyer to consider the specifics here to get a definite (or more definite) view.

Even if there is a breach, royalties won’t be recoverable (assuming there are no copyright infringements), but damages might.

It’s certainly a publication for libel purposes.

Of course, the author, producer and distributor really are anonymous, it will be difficult to bring legal proceedings against any of them!


A pamphlet is being distributed door-to-door. Does that make it a publication? And is there a requirement for the publisher or author to be identified?

In respect of which area of law (eg libel, copyright) does the question of whether it is a publication arise?

There is no general legal obligation for publications to identify and author or publisher, but there are special rules for particular circumstances.

Hello, I realise this is an old thread. I appreciate any help or advice!

I have recently taken over the publication of a small UK independent magazine. We do not pay our writers, which is agreed verbally and via emails, and stated in our submission guidelines on our website. We request that wirters do not re-publish any of their articles elsewhere within one year and then after that only with our permission and with a byline credit.

My main question is: do we have the right to reproduce material we publish under this arangement? We would like to have the option to create compilations and ‘best of’ editions both digitally and in print and I am wondering if we retain reproduction rights?

Thank you.

Where a licence of copyright is not set down in writing, there is rarely a clear answer to this sort of question.

If you have a course of dealing with a writer and it has previously been the case that you were granted a certain right, then that may imply that the same right is granted again in subsequent situations. If normal industry practice is such that a certain right is usually granted, then again that right may be implied into the licence. You need to look at all the circumstances (including the content of the emails and conversations) to make a judgement.  And inevitably, that judgement will be somewhat uncertain.

In future, you should specify in writing the rights that the writers are granting to you.


I was wondering, if I were to write about my life and get it published into a book, would I have to change the names of the real people that are still alive or could I be sued? These people are past or former families, partners etc



Whether there is a real risk of being sued in relation to a biography depends upon what you write. Some types of biography (eg misery memoirs) tend to attract libel actions. Simply changing names may not avoid this risk. Depending upon your content, there may also be other types of legal risk, such as contempt of court, copyright infringement, breach of privacy and so on.

My children’s names and illustrations are being used for characters in videos online on YouTube, and in a book that is set to be published this year. I have not consented to this, and would not. There are also illustrations of photographs of myself being used. The person in question has been making money from these on YouTube. Do I have any legal rights here? Many thanks

Would I be right in assuming that these are illustrations of your children, rather than by you children?

Assuming that is right, would a person be able to identify your children (or you) from the illustrations in combinations with the names?

Good day.

A book written in South Africa that used my real name and contains intimate knowledge about my life is now going to published in the UK by a UK publisher.

When it was first published in South Africa I gave permission for my name to be used. Now circumstances have changed and I do not want my real name to be used. Surely the publisher in the UK should get written permission from me to use my real name?

I am referring to a non-fictional book.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Did you give the original permission for your name to be used in writing, or just in conversation?

I just want to know whether the agreement between an author and a publisher would be a franchise or a licence?

There are two main approaches to the treatment of copyright in an author agreement. First, a licence may be granted to the publisher, enabling the publisher to exploit the work. Second, the copyright may be assigned to the publisher, so that the publisher become the owner of the copyright.

However, while an author agreement may include a licence, it should include other elements as well: delivery obligations, quality standards, marketing obligations and so on.

A franchise is something quite different.

Dear Alasdair, I hope you are well!

I am highly annoyed with the lack of customer service provided to me by a retail giant. Being insignificant, there is little I can do as they hide behind the innumerable clauses in their Ts&Cs, to which I agreed when making an online purchase.

As a very small gesture of “a woman scorned” let’s call it, I would like to do 2 things:

1- Request that under the Data Protection Act they provide me with all the information they hold on me, and that they delete all this information from all their records, including my online account.

2- Inform them that I can and will provide all my communications with them to any publishing media as I deem appropriate, that they do not have the same right because I do not give my consent, and that I myself will take every opportunity to post negative feedback about this retailer, as well as encourage and support any media coverage of the poor service provided by this retailer. I wish to do this without giving them recourse to me about defamation or giving rise to any liability to myself.

Is this possible? Please help!

Thank you so much!

Kindest regards,


The rules on data protection subject access requests don’t limit the purposes for which they may be used, and I don’t see any problems with your suggested request.

There’s currently no “right to be forgotten” in EU data protection law. That said, in some circumstances the application of the basic principles of data protection law may require account  deletion. If processing (which includes storage) is based on consent, and there is no other legal basis for processing, then the withdrawal of consent should result in the end of the processing: ie deletion of the data. Also see principle number 5: “Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes”. Certainly, there’s no harm in asking.

Assuming the content of your communications to them isn’t legally problematic (e.g. defamatory, in breach of copyright, in breach of confidence) then publishing that should be OK too. However, if you want to avoid legal risks, you shouldn’t publish their communications to you.

Posting negative feedback isn’t usually a problem, unless it constitutes libel or malicious falsehood / slander of goods. For general guidance on libel, see:


NB the law on libel will be changing very soon, when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force, at which point parts of that post will become out of date.

There’s no licensing requirement as such in English law, although there are various regulatory issues you should consider (e.g. notifying HMRC of a new business, legal deposit of publications with the British Library).


I have the Idea to create a magazine in England for a different market, being a non-British can you please advise how to find a permanent legal and accounting advisor.

thank you


In a recent local news paper they have put a photo on the internet with my car and the number plate is in full view the story does not relate to me and I feel this is a invasion of my privacy.  Can I take any legal action to get this picture removed from the internet as it suggests a link between me and this story?



Have you asked them to remove the photo or obscure the number plate?

What was the news story about and how might it cause you loss/damage?

If on online publisher publishes an author’s work and that turns out to contain potentially libellous material, who get sued? The author, or the publisher (company or owner?) or both?


It depends in signifcant part upon whether the online publisher is a publisher in the traditional sense – i.e. one that takes editorial responsibility for the publication.

Is that the case here, or is the publisher merely providing the tools to enable publication?

Hi Alasdair,

Thanks for getting back. In this case, the author has signed over his rights to the work to the publisher for a fee, and then the publisher has published the vroom as one of a series under their rubric, but with the author still named. The publisher is more of a conventional publisher in this case, like a magazine, publishing authored features. Does this come down to the disclaimer published at the start of the book?



In general, both the author and the publisher of a libellous work may be sued – but the publisher usually has more money and is usually therefore the first port of call for a litigant.

Libel disclaimers (“all characters are fictional” etc) are commonplace, but such disclaimers are only likely to be material in those cases that turn on the question of identification (does the defamatory statement relate to the claimant), and even then only in marginal cases.

Hello Alasdair,

I wrote some articles for a magazine and was never paid for the work. 

No written contract was ever put in place, but a verbal agreement was made and subsequently not honoured by the publisher.

Can I publish these articles on my own website without the permission of the magazine publisher?

Hi Jon – thanks for your question.

While your contract with the publisher remains in place, the question of whether you can publish the articles without permission depends, most likely, upon whether the licence you granted to the publisher was exclusive or non-exclusive. If there was no written contract, it might be that you and the publisher did not agree the nature of the licence. In that case, a court would look at the surrounding cirumstances, and in particular standard industry practice and any past dealings between you and the publisher to determine whether the licence was exclusive or non-exclusive.

(Note that while an “exclusive licence” within the meaning of the CDPA 1988 has to be in writing, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an unwritten licence that is exclusive in the ordinary sense.)

Probably a better approach – I can’t be sure without knowing all about the circumstances – would be for you to terminate the contract with the publisher on the grounds that, by not paying you, the publisher is in fundamental breach of that contract. Termination would usually be effected by written notice. If a publishing contract can be successfully terminated then, usually, the author will be free to exploit the work without restriction. Again, however, it depends upon the terms of that contract, which of course might need to be implied by the court.

If you did breach an exclusive licence by publishing the article, then one standard measure of damages would be a reasonble licence fee. If you could persuade a court that a licence fee was in fact payable and unpaid under the agreement, it is hard to believe that a court would be very impressed by a claim from the publisher.

Hi Alasdair,

Does the author or publishing house have to advise or gain permission from a victim’s family when writing about an event and publishing photos of the victim? Victim is no longer with us.

Thank you


Without knowing all the details, the best I can do is give some vague guidance.

There’s no general rule of law that requires the families of victims (of crime?) to give their consent to reports of an event (the crime?) involving the victim. However, there are some specific laws that could come into play, depending upon the details. For example:

  • Copyright in photographs – does a member of the family own the copyright?
  • Does Section 85 of the CDPA apply to the photograph? This creates right of privacy in some photographs.
  • The right privacy – could the family’s right to a private life be infringed by the publication?
  • Could the report be considered defamatory of anyone other than the victim (you cannot defame the dead)?
  • Is contempt of court a potential issue (obviously this one has nothing to do with family consent)?

The application of these and other laws really does depend upon the specifics.


Hi Stephen – Whether any particular set of circumstances give rise to a right to sue is a complex question, requiring a full analysis of all the relevant facts.

Bearing this caveat in mind, if the untrue statements are being published in the UK, and if they are likely to materially damage your reputation or that of your company, you may have a right to bring proceedings for defamation in the UK courts. If the statements were published maliciously ,you may have a right of action in the tort of malicious falsehood (e.g. slander of goods).

If the review website has not itself produced the offending content – if it was posted by a user – the website operator may have access to defences under Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 and/or Regulations 17-19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002.

If the organisation or individual running the online review website is not based in UK or does not have significant assets, then it may be harder to pursue / commercially justify legal proceedings.

As you can probably tell from all these “ifs”, this is the sort of question that cannot be properly answered without all the facts.  I suggest that you contact a defamation lawyer to discuss the situation.  If you need details of an appropriate person, please let me know.

Dear Alasdair

I was wondering if you could help me please.

Can you sue an online review website for publishing blatent lies or repeating false or unproven and damaging accusations about you or your business (in the UK?)

Thank you,

Kind regards


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