Imagine that Writer A's book includes copyrighted material created by Creator B, and Creator B sues for copyright infringement. Will Writer A be held liable, or will the book publisher?

I think the publisher is officially responsible for this. If yes, is it possible for the publisher to contractually transfer all responsibility to the writer?

It possible for a publisher completely avoid copyright complaints, or will a publisher always be held accountable for copyright violations?

  • To clarify: are you talking about a situation in which a writer's work has been published through Publisher A, then is used without permission in a book published by Publisher B? If so, when you ask about "responsibility", do you mean legal liability for the breach of copyright, or the responsibility to bring a lawsuit against the copyright infringer? – Erik Schmidt Aug 2 '12 at 23:40
  • @ErikSchmidt I want to generally know how much a publisher liability is limited. It is not only about the copyrighted materials but also the content. For example, there is a lawsuit for the content of a book , who will be responsible for "the breach of copyright". – Googlebot Aug 3 '12 at 4:07
up vote 7 down vote accepted

In the scenario of Creator B's work being included in Writer A's work without approval, Creator B will go after both the writer and the publisher. Writer A is obviously liable for using Creator B's work, and the publisher is liable for assisting in the infringing by distributing the book. The publisher also is going to have far deeper pockets than Writer A.

Unfortunately for publishers, it is difficult to root out plagiarism. The very recent case of Jonah Lehrer shows that once they find out about it, they usually act swiftly not to defend the plagiarist, but to distance themselves from him.

The laws surrounding publishing are complex, but the most important thing to remember is that copyright is a negative right, meaning that the creator of the work has the ability to stop others from distributing his or her work. It also means that everyone connected with the infringement is likely to get sued.

Legally, the author owns the copyright, so the ultimate responsibility falls on the author. If the copyrighted material is a real money maker for the publisher, then they would have a vested interest in protecting that copyright and would in all likeliness provide legal assistance or even act on the author's behalf. It would be in their own best interests to protect their investment, so they would definitely be motivated to do so. Some publishers have employees who are responsible for monitoring such things to ensure that their published works are not used without compensation, but ultimately it depends on just how successful the book is in the first place.

I am not a lawyer but here's my "take."

The writer will get sued for doing the actual infringing.

The publisher will also get sued, for aiding and abetting, and because it has the deeper pockets. The publisher may have a defense if it took steps to prevent infringement such as questioning the author about the antecedents of his work, and/or doing a computerized search of works with similar topics.

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