Copyright for authors - How to avoid trouble with your book publication

"All rights remain with the author" is a frequently propagated promise. This is completely superfluous, at least when it comes to copyright. No one can take that away from you if you have captured your own ideas in a text. You are and will always remain the author. But it is not quite that simple....

That's what it's all about

When you get your first book or are planning to do so in the current year, you should now inform yourself about some legal issues in this context. This includes copyright law, among other things. We'll help you stay on top of things so that your book publication doesn't get a legal bump in the road. Before we give you a checklist to help you check your book for possible pitfalls in terms of copyright, we will first define the term more precisely. We'll also tell you about the possible consequences of copyright infringement.

What is copyright?

Before we delve deeper into the topic, we must first be clear about what copyright actually means. It refers to the protection of intellectual or material property of an author, whereby four conditions must be fulfilled for copyright protection:

  • The work must be created by a creative process of the author.
  • It must be perceptible, although there need not be a permanent form.
  • It must be the author's own creative work.
  • The author and his personality must characterize the work.

Copyright law therefore applies to works in the fields of art, science and literature. It therefore applies not only to authors, but also to composers, choreographers, photographers, designers, painters, sculptors and other professions that creatively or productively create something.

History of copyright

Furthermore, copyright regulates the rights between the author and his legal successors. This relationship was already known in ancient times. At that time, there was no legally regulated protection of intellectual property, but the first plagiarism arose at that time. The poet Marcus Valerius Martialis accused his colleague Fidentinus of copying his poems and called him a man-stealer, which means plagiarius in Latin.

However, the author was not protected as the creator of intellectual content until the end of the Middle Ages, when the introduction of printing with movable type meant that books could be reproduced more quickly and thus also distributed. From the 18th century onwards, there was a reproduction right in England for the first time, which the author could assign to a publisher for a certain period of time.

Copyright in its present form has only existed since the 1960s in the form of the Copyright Act (UrhG)In the years that followed, there were repeated adaptations, which were mainly due to globalisation and internationalisation. Critics of copyright law, however, repeatedly argue that the law in its current form does not do justice to the (digital) changes in the media world and is in need of reform.

The impact of the Internet on copyright

In the new millennium, copyright law is facing completely new challenges and can hardly keep up with technological progress. Google or social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have played a major role in the development of a whole new culture, especially among the younger generation, which believes that one can help oneself to content on the Internet at will and copy and distribute it quickly and anonymously.

Most people are not even aware that they are violating copyright law. This problem exists mainly with photos, which can be copied easily and without great loss of quality. However, third-party texts are also used on one's own website, often without stating the source, and are thus automatically passed off as one's own intellectual property. For this reason, there have been adjustments to copyright law in the recent past, so that, for example, circumventing copy protection for digital works is interpreted and prosecuted as a criminal offence.

At what point is one an author?

If you, as the author, record your own ideas in a text, then you are the author of the work and thus have the sole right to exploit it. This right comes into effect automatically and does not require any further registration, as is the case with a patent, for example. In this context, it is important that the text is recorded in written form, alone the idea of a novel is not subject to protection.

Copyright cannot be transferred to third parties, so it remains with the author beyond death. His heirs can still claim the right up to 70 years later, but then anyone can publish or edit the work. For this reason, we have reissued more than 30,000 titles of world literature, some of which were previously no longer available in print, as part of our TREDITION CLASSICS in recent years.

What is the difference between copyright and exploitation right?

In addition to pure copyright, which we have now adequately defined, there is the right of exploitation, which includes the right of reproduction, the right of distribution and the right of exhibition, as well as the right of publication and the right of use, all of which are closely related.

The right of publication is part of the author's moral rights and gives the author the right to determine whether, how and when the work is made available to the public. This is necessary in order to exploit the content. The author can claim this right as well as the exploitation right himself or he assigns this ownership as a right of use to a publisher. The latter then takes over the reproduction and distribution of the text, so that the author cedes the right of reproduction and distribution, whereby the framework conditions are of course defined in a Contract be laid down in the contract. In this context, the fee, a time limit and other aspects are also specified.

Most publishers claim the exploitation right exclusively for themselves. At tredition, a non-exclusive exploitation right is contractually agreed, which means that you can publish and reproduce your book elsewhere at any time. You can find details on this in our Terms and conditions. We have also written a detailed article on author's rights.

What are the consequences of copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when copyright or exploitation rights are disregarded. This is the case, for example, if a work is reproduced or published without permission, which can be prosecuted under criminal and civil law. However, before you assert claims, you should check with the help of a lawyer whether there has actually been an infringement of copyright, whereby it is of course often difficult to find the perpetrator, especially in the case of an unauthorised publication on the Internet.

However, if this is successful, a cease-and-desist letter is first sent, in the context of which an out-of-court settlement is possible. As the author, you can demand an injunction and the removal of the unlawful distribution as well as compensation for damages.

What you can do in the event of a warning for copyright infringement

Conversely, you should of course also check your own work for possible copyright infringements, our checklist below will help you with this. If, despite all your caution, you do receive a warning from a lawyer, you should not take it lightly. Check very carefully whether the warning allegations are true and consult a lawyer if you are in doubt. He or she will then help you to find out whether the claims are justified and reasonable. If this is not the case, then you can actively proceed against it with a counter warning or a negative declaratory action. However, you will have to bear possible additional costs if the original copyright infringement turns out to be admissible after all.

The declaration to cease and desist as part of the warning notice

However, if the warning is justified, you will usually be asked to submit a cease-and-desist declaration. Our tip: try to avoid this at all costs. A cease-and-desist declaration is a civil law contract (someone has to sue you if you violate it), in which you declare by signing it that you will refrain from the warned facts in the future. At the same time, a cease-and-desist declaration represents an admission of guilt and also preserves a possible contractual penalty in the event of a violation. By the way, you should not take this contract lightly, as it is not subject to a statute of limitations and is therefore valid for life. In addition, the contract may include the removal of the copyright infringement, which in the case of E-books is less bad, but in the case of printed books it can result in destruction, which of course entails further costs.

The composition of possible claims

In addition, you must comply with the demands received in the warning, whereby a lawyer can reduce the amount in most cases. The costs are made up of several items, whereby the actual damages are only one part. This is usually calculated from the so-called license analogy. This means that you pay the value that results from a fictitious license agreement. For example, if you have unlawfully two pictures used, for which an author normally receives 300 euros, then the pure compensation for the two pictures amounts to 600 euros.

In addition, there are warning fees, which, however, were limited to 150 euros for private individuals some time ago in order to avoid waves of warnings, in which law firms have specialised in the past. In addition, there are lawyer's fees, which are determined by the value in dispute, as well as costs for an expert, if necessary. In total, the costs can amount to 1,000-10,000 euros or, in cases of particular hardship, even prison sentences of three to five years are possible if the copyright infringement has a commercial background.

First aid for warning letters:

  1. Keep the peace
  2. Check the factual accuracy of the accusations, are you or your book even concerned?
  3. Consult a lawyer
  4. Observe the set deadlines
  5. Is there an infringement of copyright?
  6. Are the demands reasonable?
  7. Removal of the copyright infringing content

Composition of costs in a copyright infringement case:

  1. Damages
  2. attorney's fees
  3. own legal fees
  4. Warning fee
  5. Expert costs
  6. Disposal costs

In the context of "Legal", you can also find information about the design of a privacy-compliant author's homepage.

Copyright checklist

These are the aspects you have to check before (!) publishing


Of course, you may be inspired by other works, but you may not simply take over whole sentences or even text passages from other authors. The use of individual text passages by another author is not permitted within the scope of an Sync and corrections by n17t01 The citation may only be used if it serves to emphasise or explain the author's own content and the citation is integrated into the author's own work. In this case, it is particularly important to identify the quotation as such by stating the source. If this step is not taken, it is plagiarism and constitutes an infringement of copyright. We recommend our detailed information on quoting.

Respect for personal rights

This aspect is not directly related to copyright, but it is very important. If you mention real people by name or they are clearly recognizable from the description, then they can take legal action if they recognize themselves and see themselves as disparaged or defamed. If in doubt, have this aspect clarified by a lawyer. Please also have a look at our contribution to the Author's right in which we go into more detail about the right of personality.

Title and title protection

Just as the contents of a work are subject to the title copyright. And since a catchy and distinctive title is important for the success of a book, you should not only find an appropriate title, but also check whether it already exists or whether a word or phrase is protected by patent. But even in this case you can of course, in connection with a reasonable fee, obtain permission to use it or use variants. Help with the title search is provided by the Title protection section of the Börsenblatt as well as the Databases of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. If you have found a good title that is not yet protected, you can apply to the German Publishers and Booksellers Association for title protection. This is valid as long as the title is available.

Check images used!

The Internet invites you to copy images, but it is precisely in this area that there are currently the most legal cases. Therefore, only use images from the common image databases such as e.g. iStockphoto or shutterstock. The use of these images is legally secure and usually relatively inexpensive. Alternatively, you can of course also obtain written permission for the use of an image from the copyright holder and pay the fee directly to him. In addition, you should mention the author by name in the imprint.


This article makes it clear that copyright law is very multi-faceted. It is intended to raise awareness, but not to discourage you from using photos or quotes in your book and incorporating them creatively. If you obtain the appropriate permissions, then you are legally on the safe side. Conversely, as the creator of an intellectual work, you are subject to cultural protection. Therefore, don't be afraid to take legal action if someone uses your content without permission or attribution.


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.