The pressure to publish can be overwhelming. Whether it is information you want to provide, an edge on the market to discuss a topic that is trending, or to finally write that novel that has always been itching to get out. But in all cases, with self-publishing being as accessible as your laptop, safeguarding your own words, thoughts and ideas is troubling.

Before the dawn of the instant access with the Internet, writers (students and professionals) have been “borrowing”, paraphrasing and even stealing the property of others for a long time. It will happen, and it won’t stop. Chasing down a culprit through the cyber world is time consuming and challenging. But protecting yourself from offences, and being aware of how to avoid offending yourself, is much more doable.

Understand Copyright Law

Ignorance of the law is never an excuse and protecting your work with some self-education will go far. The basic premise of copyright law is that if you create it, then you own it. This goes for print, image, and video. There may be a few exceptions but as you find yourself looking for enhancements to your articles or quotations for your novel, you will find that most quality work has copyright protection. You can still use certain items, if you follow the rules.

Identifying Copyright Information

The copyright page of your book should have the information others need if they are planning to use any of your material. You can register your copyright for further protection, and a small fee. It is worth it if you eventually have to undertake legal action. A lawyer will have an easier time pursuing your case if the work is registered.

Protecting Images, Graphics and Music

There are public domain options for many useful materials, but sticking to reliable sources will help you avoid issues that may come up. Even if you are using only a small portion, as may be the case when you are dealing with music and lyrics. Nobody wants to be sued. There are also “common licenses” as another means of sourcing video, graphics and images. These fall more under the domain of “Creative Commons” or public domain, and details about these regulations are usually clearly stated with the content. Under the lesser-known “Fair Use” doctrine, a third party is allowed to use material, under strict and specific circumstances, which varies case by case. If, and when you are published, you would have counsel to work through this with you, but if you are not yet at this stage, the task to learn more is your own.

Using Trademarks and Brand Names in Your Work

It is becoming more commonplace for our language to encompass brand names where generic terms should be used. Think of the last time you referred to a tissue as a Kleenex, or a search engine use as being googled. This can pose a problem in your writing if your use of the term tarnishes the company or product in any way. If your work is digital, the usage would be easily detected. It may be safer to refer to generic terms, or sometimes to make up a new brand name. Be careful to never disparage a brand or product in your content unless necessary. If, for example, you have a character dealing with a bullying issue on Facebook, consider legal advise before using the company name in your work.

Safeguarding Your Own Work

Policing your own material can be daunting. The problem can be a challenge if you are trying to prove, through identification, that work has been copied. If you have a readership, your supporters may be able to help you with this infringement. The first step would be to contact the “culprit” and clearly outline for them how they have violated your copyright protection. If it is a large infringement, legal advice may be necessary.

Be Alerted

It’s likely that much copying, plagiarizing and violating of copyright goes on undetected in the Internet world. But the advances brought by such a technology can be a useful tool too! Google provides “Google alerts” on their site for writers that help them be notified when their material shows up anywhere in the cyber world. It could be the title of your book, passages, your name or anything else you want to be informed about. It is worth investigating.


As an independent author, you can make use of the DMCA takedown process, even if your work is not registered. This reporting process may be something you have seen in larger bookselling websites. It serves as an easy means for authors to report violations that will lead to the offending work being taken down. The author of the “alleged” infringement must be notified and the report must be repeated for every place the copied work appears. If the culprit is selling the material, it may be more difficult to get the work taken down or removed from where it is offered.

The Dreaded Plagiarism

As a writer, you want to remain authentic and original and to develop a reputation as such. But mistakes are going to happen, by you and against you. An excellent way to ensure your own work is free from any hint of impropriety is to utilize Unplag and the options they offer to fight plagiarism. No one sets out to infringe on the works of others, but it does happen and on this site you can be advised as to how to detect it, and deal with it. Self-publishing requires authors to fulfill many roles, often the ones publishing houses taken on for you. You can protect your meticulously with the use of a service that has expertise in the area of plagiarism and its issues.


Being a writer these days mean being proactive about having your thoughts, words and ideas out there. Take the steps necessary to protect what you have spent time creating. Consider alliances with other writer and authors to protect each other. Get the legal help when you need it. Accept that plagiarism will happen and be prepared to deal with it, avoiding the emotional response that you have been robbed! Don’t let the pain of an experience enable you to feel helpless and violated. With the same ease the culprit took in violating your work, fight back with these tools and the knowledge that a strong defense in place will protect you only so far…the offense is up to you.

Lynn Usrey is a newbie essayist and freelance writer. After graduation from University of Florida at 2013 she has been working as a freelance editor and proofreader. Also she teaches writing on writing courses in Orlando, Florida. Visit her LinkedIn page.