How much do you know about copyright? Here’s a chance to find out. I’m going to recount a real-life experience I had with copyright a couple of weeks ago. How would you have handled it?

I’d just published an article called “Writing Clear, Effective Police Reports: No English Degree Required” for the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin. (You can read it here:

A few days later, a police chief emailed me to ask whether he could make copies for his officers. He didn’t want to violate the copyright. What did I tell him? Scroll down for the answer.


The answer was that I no longer owned the copyright – I had signed a contract transferring it to the FBI. So even though I’d written the article myself, I didn’t have the right to make copies myself or allow anyone else to do it.

I suggested he write to my editor, and I gave him her email address. She, I’m happy to say, gave him the permission he needed.

Copyright is complicated, and it’s serious business! I just came across a terrific free resource that can help you understand how copyright works. It’s called How To Copyright A Book: A Comprehensive Guide. Here’s the link:


I’m going to add something to the excellent information you can find at the link. When you’re dealing with a professional publisher, you can be sure that you’ll get useful advice about dealing with copyright.

But you need to be wary when you’re publishing on your own. You may work with a rep who understands copyright – but maybe you won’t.

I’ve been shocked not once but twice lately by the shoddy research I found in two self-published books about Bernard Shaw. I hasten to add that I didn’t find any copyright problems. But the authors had no idea how academic publishing is done, and no one had helped them. I suspect that no one talked to them about copyright laws.

I’m not an attorney, of course, so I can’t give you any specific advice about copyright. But I can urge you to educate yourself about copyright…and to be careful. When in doubt, consult an attorney.


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