Author's right

Author's rights - What rights and obligations do I have as an author?

Imprint, title protection, copyright - as an author there is a whole range of rights and obligations that you need to think about when you want to publish a book. What do you have to pay attention to before, during and after your publication?

Authorship - what is it all about?

The term "author's rights" covers all topics and issues that come into play before, during and after the publication of a book.

Before and during publication, for example, it is a question of whether your book respects personal rights and copyrights or to what extent you are allowed to quote. There is also the question of what to consider when using photos and whether you should apply for title protection for your book title. The imprint and the author contract are also topics you should deal with in advance.

And even after publication, there are a few things to keep in mind. For example, how you have to pay tax on your income from book sales and what you can do if another author publishes or copies parts of your book.

Legal violations can be costly, so you should thoroughly understand your rights and responsibilities as an author.

What is copyright?

Even as you write a text, you are legally its author. The Copyright automatically comes into force and means that you alone have the right to exploit your work, i.e. to publish and distribute it. It protects the author of intellectual or material property. It applies not only to book authors, but also to photographers, sculptors, painters or composers, for example.

As the author, you not only determine if, when, and how your work is published, but you can also enforce copyright in the event of copyright infringement. For example, another author, blogger, or editor can be held accountable if they have unlawfully taken content from your book. This legal protection has become increasingly important with the proliferation of digital content. The inhibition threshold to pass off other people's texts as one's own intellectual property has dropped significantly.

What mandatory information does a book need?

Whether the imprint or the barcode - there are some obligatory details that must not be missing from your book. It is also important to quote correctly if you use text excerpts or images from third parties. In addition, personal rights must be observed.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

Books and publishing products can be clearly identified with an ISBN. In Germany, the MVB Marketing and Publishing Service GmbHa subsidiary of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, provides ISBNs to publishers and authors.

The ISBN was introduced in the 1970s, initially as a ten-digit code. In 2006, it was extended by three digits to increase the number of possible combinations and thus the number of numbers to be assigned. The 13 digits of an ISBN are put together according to a precise system to convey the respective information about the book. This makes it possible to find out in which country a book was published, by which publisher it was published and what form of publication it is, i.e. paperback, hardcover or e-book.

Although the use of an ISBN is not a legal obligation when publishing a book, it is a prerequisite for your book to be visible in the databases and merchandise management systems of the book trade. This means that no bookseller or library can order your book. An ISBN is also a prerequisite for an entry in the directory of available books.

When publishing via a publisher you will automatically receive an ISBN. If you decide to self-publish, check in advance whether the Service provider provides an ISBN and what this costs additionally. Those who self-publish can apply to the MVB for an ISBN. A single ISBN currently costs 70 euros plus VAT.

The ISBN is part of the barcode, which is usually printed on the back cover of the book. It must also be stated in the imprint.


A barcode allows retailers and online stores to identify your book. The book barcode contains the barcode as well as the ISBN and the selling price. Like the ISBN, the barcode is indispensable if you want to sell your book in bookstores. It is also provided by the publisher and self-publishing service providers.


The imprint means an overview of the facts about the book, such as ISBN, copyright, author name and publisher, and is mandatory in every book. Without an imprint, you risk a warning or a fine. Each federal state has its own requirements. It is best to ask your self-publishing service provider for your federal state.

As a rule, the following information is required in an imprint and is recommended as information for readers and booksellers: copyright with year of publication and author's name, edition, name and service provider of cover design and illustrations, name of editor and translator, publisher and printing, ISBNs of all edition formats, copyright information and bibliographic information of the German National Library.

Take a look at a sample imprint or use the books on your bookshelf as a model. The imprint is usually placed before the beginning of the body text on the left-hand side of the book. The bibliographic information of the German National Library (DNB) informs readers and booksellers that your book is available in the German National Bibliography is recorded. Every book that is published in Germany must be sent to the DNB in duplicate. Find out whether your self-publishing service provider takes care of this or whether you have to take care of it yourself.

Title protection

Once you publish your book. Book title protected by trademark law. You can protect it before the book is published so that it is not used by other authors in the meantime. On the other hand, if you have an idea for a book title, check in advance whether it already exists on the book market. This can be done, for example, in the directory of available books or in the Title protection section of the Börsenblatt. In addition, also search for it in the usual online shops.

To apply for title protection, you can apply to the industry magazines Financial Times or Book market place a title protection advertisement. This is then valid for a few months. It expires if you do not publish within this time.

Personal rights

Especially if you publish a biography or a contemporary witness report, it is important to pay attention to the right of personality. The Personal rights protects you from being portrayed negatively, distortively or falsely in public. If you mention people by name in your book, you should obtain written permission.

Exceptions apply in the case of celebrities who have to put up with a certain amount of reporting. However, this does not mean that it would be permissible to violate their privacy. After all, even public figures are entitled to the right of privacy. So if you spread untruths about a celebrity in your book, you are violating their privacy rights. And watch out: Hearsay sources (Wikipedia, etc.) are not legally valid sources with which you can prove a statement.

By the way, a name change or alienation is not always sufficient to protect personal rights. If the person can be identified, you risk legal consequences such as claims for damages or compensation for pain and suffering. The reference in the book that the persons named are fictitious is not always sufficient.

Quotations and image rights

In particular with non-fiction and reference books, but also in novels, foreign authors, institutions, experts, politicians and other celebrities are quoted. The source citation and the correct Cite are absolutely necessary.

In recent years, the Internet and social networks have significantly lowered the inhibition threshold for copying images from websites or social media platforms without hesitation and using them further. There is a risk of not inconsiderable penalties. Therefore, never use images, photos, graphics or other illustrations whose usage rights you have not clearly clarified. It is best to contact the copyright holder, the publisher or the editor. If you use photos from photo databases, check the terms of use of the respective image before you buy it.

A book with several authors

In self-publishing in particular, it is not uncommon for authors to join forces to publish an anthology, for example in the course of a literary competition whose winning entries are to be published. Anthologies such as poetry or short story collections or books by co-authors also appear in traditional publishing houses. In such cases, one of the authors usually acts as the publisher. This person concludes an author contract with the respective publisher or self-publishing service provider.

The following applies under copyright law: If several authors write a book together that cannot be strictly divided into individual contributions by the respective authors, then they are all authors together and should therefore make all decisions concerning the book together. In the case of individual contributions such as short stories or technical articles, each author is the author of his or her own text.

In order not to risk disagreements with each other afterwards, you should seek legal advice for specific legal questions regarding multi-author publications.

The author contract

Whether you're talking about Publisher or a self-publishing service provider check the author's or publisher's contract before you sign it. What rights are important to you? Think about what you value and make sure these points are covered in the contract. What creative freedom do you want and what support do you expect from the publisher or service provider? How high is the author's fee and what are the cancellation periods? Can you additionally publish and sell your book through other channels and how widely will your book be distributed? The rights of use are also regulated in the contract, such as translation or preprint rights, as well as the output formats as hardcover, paperback or e-book.

Tax law for authors

As a writer, you're a freelancer. According to Income Tax Act every copy sold counts. You have to declare the income in your tax return at the end of the year. As a freelancer, you can deduct writing material, workroom, telephone and internet costs or costs for further training from your taxes. Attention: As a freelancer you are not automatically a trader. You should discuss whether you need to register a trade with the relevant tax office.

If you make a living writing If you want to work as a freelance artist and are active as a full-time artist, not only the tax aspects but also your old-age and health insurance play a role. Freelance artists can take out insurance through the Künstlersozialkasse secure.


As a book author, you can talk about Collecting society WORT Claim compensation arising from the use of your book. Put simply: Musicians have GEMA, book authors or editors have VG WORT. Like GEMA, it is under the supervision of the German Patent and Trademark Office.

As an association of authors and publishers, VG WORT collects money from companies and institutions such as publishers, libraries or copy machine manufacturers that exploit intellectual property. It distributes these funds to authors and journalists, i.e. the authors. In order to participate in the distributions, you must conclude a rights management agreement with VG WORT.

What do I have to pay attention to legally when marketing a book?

With all advertising measures via the Internet, especially in social networks, you should inform yourself legally in advance and protect yourself. This is especially true since the General Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO) has come into force. The GDPR regulates the handling of personal data. Its aim is to disclose to every user of a website which of their data is stored and processed. This concerns, for example, contact forms, address fields or comment functions. In addition to the imprint, your author's homepage needs a privacy policy that lists which data is collected and processed and whether it is passed on to third parties.

Copyright and personal rights also apply on the Internet

Even if you use social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Xing for your book promotion, you should follow some basic rules. Copyright law also applies to online media. If, for example, you share a photo, a graphic or a quote from someone on Facebook who has not agreed to the publication, you are violating copyright law. If you want to quote text from another website, be sure to cite the source and link to it. For quotes or images from books and magazines, check with the publisher or author to see if you can use them on social media.

Always remain objective

You should also be careful with images from photo databases, so-called stock photos. Just because you used them in your book doesn't automatically mean you can share them on social media. Be sure to check the terms of use before you buy the photos.

The portal "Onlinemarketing Praxis" has published a vivid article on the fact that and to what extent the Copyright also to be observed on the Internet is.

Personal rights also apply online. Insults or derogatory comments towards other users are taboo. Of course, you can comment in a matter-of-fact and sober manner - this also makes you look more confident and professional.

There are also legal peculiarities to consider in book marketing offline. For example, if you want to be accompanied by a live musician at your reading, you may be liable to pay fees to the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (GEMA). This depends, for example, on whether it is a piece of music you have composed yourself or covered and whether the musician is registered with GEMA. Be sure to inform yourself in advance about the GEMA Customer Center.

If in doubt, you should always seek advice from a specialist lawyer or legally experienced proofreaders.


While there are many legalities to consider, don't worry: you're not on your own. If you have any questions, you can contact your editor, publisher, self-publishing service provider or legal advisor. It's important that you never act rashly, whether it's writing, planning for publication, or marketing efforts.


Written from our team by

Make something out of your book
Convince yourself and try out our tools. Simply register and get started. Without obligation. Without costs. You decide.