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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone wrote in and assked if a person can make "changes" to another author's copyrighted book and republish it. I know, I know. But read on anyway to see how I answered.

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Sure. Absolutely, no problem. Just make sure you have tons of money in a bank account somewhere, because you're going to need it.


Of course, you can't make "changes" to someone else's book and republish it under your name--or any name, for that matter. That would still be misappropriation and copyright infringement. Copyrights exist for a reason—and preventing misappropriation of creative or intellectual property is number-one on the Hit Parade. When you infringe upon someone else's IP, you're depriving that person of the potential ability to generate income and notoriety from the work over which he has sweated, often for years. No matter how you slice it, that's a big no-no.


Now, you can completely rewrite an existing book about the same topic or genre as the original book and publish that under your name. But it must be a completely new work written with completely different wording that makes it a unique publication in itself. The same holds true for book cover art. Artists, designers, and photographers, too, are protected from misappropriation of their work. Unless you take an existing copyrighted image and completely transform it into something unique, you can't use it without permission.


What bothers me most about your question is not that one would expect common sense should have told you as much as I just did. Nope. The thing that bothers me most is the growing number of people in this universe who are asking frighteningly similar questions as yours for the apparent purpose of getting something for nothing. You know. Stealing. Take the quick, easy route to fame and glory. It seems to me that anyone who even thinks about misappropriating another author's property is coming up a bit short in the morals and scruples department. Don't you?


And, if a person will stoop that low, what will he do next? Steal a car, have it repainted, and register it in the thief's own name? Take a package off someone's front porch and move it over to his own? Theft is theft, no matter what's at stake. If you unlawfully deprive someone of the property to which he has legal entitlement, you've stolen something from him. Period.


As you might suspect, neither publishing houses nor writers take misappropriation lightly. The courts are filled with copyright violation cases, and writing groups are constantly on guard for examples of pirated intellectual property. Convictions can be extremely costly--especially with copyrights registered with the U.S. Copyright Office--and can even include jail time for severe or habitual offenders. And, jumping the shark here for a moment, a work doesn't have to be registered to be copyrighted. All creative properties receive natural copyright protection from the moment of their completion, whether or not their creators officially register them with the federal government.


So, let a word to the wise suffice. Get your lazy butt off the sofa, and go write the damned book yourself. From scratch! If nothing else, it will be a new experience. Until then ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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