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Interview with Lloyd Jassin
by Kelly Sagert

If somebody ripped the personalized mailbox off your house or stole the Motown tape collection stored in your car, you'd be angry. This, after all, was your property. But, if somebody had quoted, without your permission, extensive portions of material that you'd written, you might feel on shaky ground. Is this really that big of a deal?

Attorney Lloyd J. Jassin answers that question with a resounding "yes," and he advises writers to place high value on their copyrighted work. "A copyright is something tangible that you own," Jassin says, "and is an extremely valuable right."

Jassin is well qualified to write this book. He provides counseling to publishing, multimedia, arts and entertainment clients on a variety of topics, including issues of copyright. He has published numerous articles on negotiating and drafting contracts, as well.

In The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-by-Step guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers (Wiley Books for Writers, 1998), Lloyd Jassin shares specifics of that right.

Copyright is....
...a bundle of exclusive rights that provides authors of original literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works with the sole rights to authorize (or prohibit) the following uses of their copyrighted works:
  • To reproduce all or part of the work To make new (derivative) versions To distribute new copies by selling, renting, leasing or lending them To perform (e.g., recite, dance or act) the work publicly
  • To display the work publicly, directly or by means of film, TV, slides or other device or process. (pp 10-11)
  • Before forming his own law firm, he was associated with Cowen, Liebowitz & Latman, a nationally known intellectual property firm serving Fortune 500 clients in the publishing and communications business. He also worked as an attorney for Viacom Enterprises, a division of the world's largest independent distributor of feature films and off-network television programming.

    Before attending law school, he served as Director of Publicity for the Simon & Schuster Reference Group, a group containing trade, software and professional publishing companies. In this capacity, Jassin worked extensively with best-selling authors; The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook, however, is his first book.

    "Somebody asked me to write this book," Jassin says, "to fill a void. There is little quality copyright information available. So, I had to take an inherently difficult subject and make it understandable, without sacrificing accuracy."

    Jassin points out that, while this is a technical subject, understanding it empowers the writer. "This raises an understanding of a writer's rights," he says, "and it raises red flags for a writer, as well, when he or she is quoting someone else."

    He actually co-authored this book with Steven C. Schechter, with his collaborator writing the section on libel. "It's almost like a combination of two separate books," Jassin says, "with each of us rewriting and editing the other person's material."

    This book contains thirteen chapters, plus an assortment of appendices. These appendices include information on how to investigate copyrights, the Copyright Office online, and sample forms for permissions and releases.

     

    "Fair use is not strictly defined, because it needs to be fact and situation specific."

    Chapter topics include copyright basics, public domain issues, obtaining permission from copyright owners and multimedia clearances. Other topics are libel law basics and how to obtain an interview release. One of the most difficult subjects in the book to fully comprehend, however, is that of fair use. "That," Jassin agrees, "is a biggie."

    Fair use, according to The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook "permits authors, scholars, researchers and educators to borrow small portions of a copyrighted work for socially productive purposes without asking permission or paying a fee. Fair use (which is technically a defense to copyright infringement) acknowledges that copyright is not an absolute right."

    It isn't always easy to determine what is and what is not fair use, and Jassin likes it that way. "If fair use was an absolute standard, that would defeat the entire purpose," he says. "Fair use is not strictly defined, because it needs to be fact and situation specific. That is the ethical and legal touchstone of the subject. If we had stricter rules, that might make the trains run on time, but that wouldn't lead to a happy populace."

    Readers, however, according to Jassin, are happy with his book. And, here is what some are saying:

    "This book deserves a place on the desk of all writers."
    Sol Stein

    "The lucid explanations of every aspect of a subject that confounds many makes this book an indispensable tool for publishing professionals, writers and students. Loaded with practical help and thoughtful commentary."
    Sandra Choron, literary agent, March Tenth, Inc.

    "An absolute must for every writer, author and publishing bookshelf. In the complex and intimidating world of copyrights, Jassin and Schechter are able to make it readable and understandable."
    Jerrold R. Jenkins, Independent Publisher and Publisher Entrepreneur

    While these people are offering the author kudos, Jassin, in turn, praises the Writers Club. "The Writers Club made me cognizant of issues people face in the trenches," he says. "This group contains people from different strata of writing sophistication, which helped me while writing the book. I thought of those bewildered by various concepts and I tried to make them more relevant. Instead of writing as a lawyer, I wrote the book as a human being."

    This book is clearly written, with pertinent definitions offered early in each chapter, and the material is broken down into easily digested amounts of information. The chapter on copyright basics, for example, contains seventeen topics (2.1 titled "What is Copyright?" 2.2 called "What Does Copyright Protect?" and so on), with complex issues further divided. Sub-topic 2.16, for example, is called "How Long Are Copyrights Protected?" It then contains two subsections discussing copyrights before and after the January 1, 1978 change in law.

    Jassin includes tips in the book, as well, encased in rectangles. Here's one: "If you want to use an entire derivative work, you will need permission from both the owner of the underlying work (provided it is in copyright) and the owner of the derivative work."

    Jassin also provides cautions, ones highlighted by a white exclamation point nestled within a black triangle. Here's a portion of one example: "Under federal and state trademark dilution laws, a parody of a famous trademark -- which includes well-known characters, designs, shapes, symbols and slogans -- may expose you to the risk of being sued."

    Besides the tips and cautions, Jassin occasionally shares a synopsis of a real life court case, along with his comments. He also provides easy to use checklists of what copyright does not protect, for example, and how to determine fair use, along with a chart of public domain information.

    "Obviously, not everyone will become a copyright attorney," Jassin says, "but writers definitely do need an education in copyright law. They need to appreciate what they have, and they need to respect the property of others. Copyrights are definitely valuable."

    NOTICE: This article represents copyrighted material and may only be reproduced in whole for personal or classroom use. It may not be edited, altered, or otherwise modified, except with the express permission of the author. This article discusses general legal issues of interest and is not designed to give any specific legal advice pertaining to any specific circumstances. It is important that professional legal advice be obtained before acting upon any of the information contained in this article.

     

    LLOYD J. JASSIN is a New York-based publishing and entertainment attorney in private practice. He is coauthor of the bestselling Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step- by-Step Guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), available at bookstores or at www.copylaw.com. Mr. Jassin has written extensively on negotiating contracts in the publishing and entertainment industries, and lectures frequently on contract and copyright issues affecting creators. He is counsel to the Publishers Marketing Association and Vice Chair of the Small Press Center. He may reached at Jassin@copylaw.com or at (212) 354-4442. His offices are located at 1560 Broadway, Suite 400, New York, NY 10036.

     

    Kelly Boyer Sagert is the managing editor of Over the Back Fence magazine and the author of Bout Boomerangs: America's Silent Sport. She has interviewed over 125 authors for online and print publication, and she speaks regularly at writers conferences and workshops.



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    DISCLAIMER: This article discusses general legal issues of interest and is not designed to give any specific legal advice pertaining to any specific circumstances. It is important that professional legal advice be obtained before acting upon any of the information contained in this article.

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