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Legal issues to consider when self-publishing

Reading time: 7 mins

Self-publishing can be an exciting and rewarding way to get your work out into the world. With the rise of digital publishing, it has never been easier to self publish your creative work. However, before you plunge into the world of self-publishing, it’s important to consider the legal issues that come with it. From copyright to defamation and privacy laws, there are several legal considerations that self-publishers in Australia need to be aware of to protect themselves and their work.

In this article, Micaela Diaz, Solicitor at Prosper Law, will explore some of the key legal issues to keep in mind when looking to self-publish in Australia.

Copyright is an essential legal issue for self-publishers in Australia to consider. Australia has a comprehensive legal framework for copyright protection, set out in the Copyright Act 1968.

The Australian copyright law protects a wide range of creative works, including literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works. Copyright law in Australia provides automatic protection to the creator of an original work. This means self-publishers do not need to register their work for copyright protection. However, self-publishers may register their work with the Australian Copyright Office to leverage the benefits of copyright registration.

Since copyright in Australia is automatic, self-publishers should not use copyrighted material in their work without obtaining permission from the owner. This can include text, images, and music. Otherwise, they may infringe on somebody else’s copyright.

In some cases, self-publishers may be able to use material without permission under the doctrine of fair dealing. However, fair dealing is a complex legal concept that requires a case-by-case analysis. Self-publishers should seek legal advice from a copyright lawyer if unsure whether their use of copyrighted material qualifies as fair dealing.

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Australia also has provisions in its copyright law that specifically relate to digital content. For example, the Copyright Act 1968 includes provisions that make it illegal to circumvent technological measures used to protect digital content. This means self-publishers should ensure the protection of their digital content against copying and distribution. A copyright lawyer can provide valuable assistance to self-publishers in such cases. They can advise on legal tools and strategies, assist in enforcing intellectual property rights, and provide guidance on compliance with applicable laws and regulations.


Another legal issue that self-publishers in Australia should be aware of is defamation.

Defamation occurs when a person or entity publishes material that causes harm to the reputation of another person or entity. This harm can be in the form of damage to their personal or professional reputation, or even financial loss. In Australia, defamation law protects the reputation of individuals and entities from harm caused by false and damaging statements.

Self-publishers in Australia should ensure that they do not publish defamatory material. This can include written material, images, and audio or video recordings. While self-publishing, defamation can occur in various materials, including books, blogs, social media posts, and other online content. Self-publishers can be held liable for defamatory material they publish, even if it was not their intention to cause harm.

To avoid potential legal issues related to defamation, self-publishers should ensure that all of their content is accurate and based on fact. If a self-publisher intends to include any statements that may be potentially defamatory, they should seek legal advice from a publishing lawyer before publishing the material. Self-publishers should not make any statements that may be interpreted as defamatory, even if they believe them to be true.

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The third important legal issue that self-publishers in Australia should consider is privacy. Australian law provides the right to privacy to everyone. Moreover, it is an important individual right. Self-publishers can be held liable for publishing material infringing on a person’s privacy.

Privacy laws in Australia cover a wide range of areas, including the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. Self-publishers need to obtain the consent of any individuals who are featured in their content before publishing it. This can include obtaining written permission or a release form from the individuals featured in the material.

Self-publishers should be aware of any laws or regulations that may apply to their content, such as the Privacy Act 1988 or state-based privacy legislation. They must not disclose any confidential information in their content.

This can include information subject to a duty of confidentiality, such as information obtained through employment or professional relationships. Self-publishers should ensure that they do not disclose any confidential information unless they have obtained the consent of the owner of the information.

In addition to privacy laws, self-publishers should also consider the potential impact of their content on the privacy of others. For example, self-publishers should not publish material that may reveal personal information about others, such as their address or contact details.

Trademark infringement

Trademark infringement is a serious legal issue for self-publishers in Australia. It occurs when a self-publisher uses a trademark identical or similar to a registered trademark without permission. This can happen in many ways, such as using a trademark in the title of a book or in marketing materials.

Trademark infringement can also occur when a self-publisher uses a trademark that is confusingly similar to a registered trademark. For example, suppose a self-publisher writes a book titled “The Wizarding School,” which features a young wizard attending a school of magic. If the book cover features a logo similar to the trademarked logo for the “Harry Potter” series, the self-publisher may infringe on the “Harry Potter” trademark. Because the “Harry Potter” trademark is registered and J.K. Rowling owns it. Any use of the “Harry Potter” trademark without her permission may be considered an infringement.

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Another example of trademark infringement by a self-publisher can occur if a self-publisher uses a trademarked logo or design in marketing materials for their book. For instance, if a self-publisher creates a marketing campaign for their book that features the logo of a popular clothing brand, this could be considered trademark infringement, as the logo is a registered trademark owned by the clothing brand.

Self-publishers can avoid potential legal issues related to trademark infringement by not using trademarks that are identical or confusingly similar to registered trademarks without permission. This may involve conducting trademark research to identify registered trademarks similar to the self-publisher’s book or marketing materials.

Contractual obligations

Self-publishers also have to deal with legal issues arising out of contractual obligations. Self-publishers may contract with editors, graphic designers, distributors, and other service providers to help them produce and market their books. These contracts can include various terms and conditions, such as deadlines, payment schedules, intellectual property rights, etc.

It is essential for self-publishers to carefully review and understand the terms of any contracts they enter into. Failure to comply with contractual obligations can result in legal disputes and financial penalties.

For example, if a self-publisher hires an editor to work on their book, the editor may have a contract that specifies a deadline for completion of the work. If the self-publisher fails to pay the editor on time or does not provide necessary materials, this could be considered a breach of contract. The editor may then have the right to terminate the contract, seek damages, or take legal action.

Another example of a contractual obligation for self-publishers is distribution agreements. Self-publishers often enter into agreements with distributors to get their books into bookstores, libraries, and online retailers. These agreements can include terms such as pricing, royalties, and distribution channels. If a self-publisher fails to comply with these terms, the distributor may have the right to terminate the agreement, withhold payments, or take legal action.

How Prosper Law Can Help?

Prosper Law is Australia’s online law firm. We provide legal advice to businesses and individuals across Australia. Our areas of legal practice include contracts, eCommerce, publishing, legal counsel and employment law.

If you need to talk to a lawyer, get in touch today.

Contact the team at Prosper Law today to discuss how we can provide you with advice for a fixed fee or at affordable hourly rates.

About the Author

Farrah Motley
Director of Prosper Law. Farrah founded Prosper online law firm in 2021. She wanted to create a better way of doing legal work and a better experience for customers of legal services.

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