Legal Stuff in Ebooks


You are not required to put any legal notices, including copyright notices, in your ebooks.

Your written work is copyrighted as soon as it is in tangible form–as in, you can pass it off to somebody else to read (which is why ideas are not copyrightable–although is some specific cases they are protected, but that is a whole other issue and has little if anything to do with ebooks). According to the US Copyright Office:

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Nor are you required to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. (although in the Wild West atmosphere of the digital world, it might be wise to do so–your call.) Again, according to the US Copyright Office:

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. Copyright Registration online.

If you do choose to post a copyright notice in your ebook along with an assertion of rights, all you need to do is:

Copyright year YOUR NAME.

You can add a little copyright symbol, too. If you are writing under a pen name and wonder which name to list the copyright under, it’s your call. Do be aware that different rules apply to individuals and businesses–and a pen name could be determined to be a business name. So, rule of thumb, post the copyright notice under whatever name you would use to register the copyright.

As for your assertion of rights, I like to include them. Not because I think it stops piracy, but because it is professional and lets others know I am aware of my rights under copyright. I see a lot of very unfriendly, even hostile rights notices. I even saw one that threatened FBI investigations for suspected piracy. If that’s how you want to treat your readers, go for it. Otherwise, here is a simple little rights notice that I post. Consider it public domain and copy it if you want to:

All rights reserved. Except for the use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means is forbidden without the express permission of the author.


You don’t need a disclaimer. It’s not a requirement. That said, there are some people who don’t understand fiction is made up and insist upon seeing themselves in fictional works. (If roman a clef is your thing, you’re living in dangerously litigious times.) Posting a simple disclaimer should be enough to protect you against nonsense. Again, feel free to use mine:

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and settings are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, names, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


There are fair use provisions under copyright law. But they are tricky and you tread thin ice when it comes to a commercial work like an ebook. As for song lyrics and lines of poetry, unless they are in the public domain, you must obtain permission and post notices that permission was sought and granted. This can also be very expensive. If you do use someone’s song lyrics without permission, they may be within their rights to not only demand you take down the offending work and revise it, but also to demand payment.

The same goes for trademarks and brand names. Companies that hold trademarks and registered brand names are required by law to exercise diligence in protecting their trademarks and brands. If you are using actual product names in your fiction or non-fiction, it is your responsibility to research correct usage. Otherwise you could receive a cease and desist order.

8 thoughts on “Legal Stuff in Ebooks

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  3. I have just finished my manuscript and am in the editing process. In terms of legality etc, the work of fiction, but I have used Michigan, Grand Rapids as the location (obviously a real place). Do I need to obtain any rights to use the location? How does it affect the wording of any disclaimer I put in the manuscript? Any help would be very much appreciated.

    Wesley Thomas

    • I’m not an attorney, but I’ve never heard of a location being a bone of legal contention in a work of fiction. The joy of using a real location is, if you’ve done your research, readers are delighted to see their favorite place or hometown lovingly depicted. The downside is that if you goof up, readers will write letters telling you that “4th Street dead ends way before Oak Avenue and so there is NO intersection of 4th and Oak!”* You’re free to include a short disclaimer saying you took some literary liberties, but it’s not a legal requirement.

      Business are a little different. You can mention actual stores and such, but be careful that you don’t libel them or infringe on trademarks.

      *Apparently Chris Moore got some heated letters from readers about his depictions of San Francisco. To which he pointed out that the book contains demons and hellhounds that eat toasters,so people shouldn’t fuss about details like which district goes where.

  4. I’m looking at writing an infomation e-book which would give advice on a process eg. ‘How to complete your registration to become a nurse in Australia’ – as it is a process I have gone through and there isnt much about the topic out there – but I was wondering where I stand with regard to putting links in to other websites? And also with giving examples of the forms used ( the forms are publicly available online for nurses to complete but would they come under copyright?? Thanks in advance for your help🙂

    • Hi Leena,

      I’m not an attorney. Best I can say is ask permission before using examples. Contact whomever put the forms on the websites. It is possible they have a process for usage in other publications. As for linking to other websites, that generally falls under fair use. The websites have links so people can visit, so they encourage others to link to them.

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