Copyright Law for Writers, Editors and Publishers

by Gillian Davies* in association with Ian Bloom, Ross & Craig Solicitors, (A & C Black, 2011): 144pp, £14.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 4081 2814 5.

Reviewed by Laura Hicks

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According to both front and back covers, this book is in the series 'essential guides … [sic]', but as this information does not appear on either the title page or the imprint page I have not included it in the title. It is a companion to Davies's Copyright Law for Artists, Photographers and Designers, the cover of which carries the same details, so possibly more such titles can be expected.

Nothing in copyright is clear

Having had a good deal to do with various aspects of copyright during my career, and thus knowing what a minefield it is, I opened this book by a legal editor with 16 years' experience with high expectations. And in many ways it doesn't disappoint.

After making it clear that, basically, nothing in copyright is clear, Davies embarks on 20 chapters of information, illustrated where appropriate with case law. Her analyses of the various problems and her commentaries on the cases are mainly clear and concise, emphasising the main points well, and there are useful footnotes given under the heading 'Information Bank'.

'Do I need permission?'

For editors, among the most valuable parts of the book will probably be the definitions and explanations of the various forms of copyright in the Introduction. Chapter 7 – 'Quoting/Extracts' – is essential reading for anyone faced with the 'Do I need permission?' problem. As Davies says, '… The point about copyright law is that you are supposed to ask for permission to use something that someone else created first.' In the chapter 'Substantive Copying' there's a brief but important paragraph on 'the role of desk and copy-editors', discussing the implications if, in cases alleging infringement of copyright, publishers cannot demonstrate that they have either checked the copyright position or attempted to obtain permissions.

Following on from this, 'Orphan Works' is a chapter devoted to using material from a source that no longer exists, or for which the copyright owner can't be found, or whose copyright owner doesn't respond to requests. In 'Other Very Interesting Bits and Bobs', Davies discusses the copyright applying to edited works, or 'compilations' – anthologies, tables and indexes – although unfortunately her thoughts on the last do not include the thorny topic of the 'moral right' of indexers not to have their work amended pre-publication.

Two of the chapters by the solicitor Ian Bloom, 'Libel and Privacy' and 'Plagiarism', will probably be of most use to those involved with editing for self-publishers. His final chapter – 'The Death of Copyright?' – is a fascinating discussion of the impact of the internet on copyright legislation. Bloom's Appendix 1 discusses copyright in publishing contracts, which might well be a useful reference for those who are asked for advice by would-be authors. Appendices 2 and 3 illustrate, respectively, a sample imprint page and a sample permissions request form.

Layout, style, index and proofreading

So, if this is such a useful book, why am I not lauding it to the skies? First, I found the layout off-putting. Because much use is made of marginal notes and 'pull quotes', the main text on the verso is set so far into the page that there is almost no right margin, which makes it quite hard to read a complete sentence without forcing the spine back. In addition, the use of semi-glossy paper makes the type reflect in artificial light.

Second, Davies's style grates – at least, for me it does. In the Preface she writes: 'Some may feel I am a bit flippant at times. I plead guilty-ish. That is my style …' It isn't mine, and so I found that her approach detracted from the value of what she was explaining. Others may love it!

Third, the index is very poor, possibly because only one page has been allowed for it. It's a straight sequence, with no separating initial letters and no differentiation in the layout between subheadings and turn-overs. The skimpiness of the coverage is illustrated by there being no entry for 'indexes'.

Finally, the book may have been copy-edited but it appears that no proofreader has been near it. The grammar in places is incorrect, the punctuation is random, and the first typo to leap out at me was 'miniscule'. Anyone who can get past all these distractions will find the book extremely useful!

*The author includes a disclaimer explaining that she is not the barrister Gillian Davies who edits Copinger & Skone James on Copyright, the copyright lawyer's bible. The distinction is, as readers will discover, an important one.

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