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The ease of self-publication coupled with the accessibility of information online has shifted the onus onto writers to understand legal issues such as defamation and copyright. Below, we examine legal issues surrounding the world of online publishing and self-publication.

Copyright Online

Online publishing, where writers often produce content and publish for free, has provided another avenue for copyright infringers. As the writer, if you have quoted from another text, it is a good idea to obtain consent from the original author. Be aware that copyright ends 70 years after the author has died, at which point the work enters the public domain and can be used without consent.

Copyright is automatic in Australia. However, it may be the case for self-published authors that they find someone has infringed their work online. It is often costly and difficult to enforce your rights with an online infringer, and unless the infringers have benefitted unjustly, it is typically impractical to pursue legal action. Furthermore, some writers choose to support others using their characters or settings for their work as long as it is not for commercial gain. For example, fanfiction has proliferated over the last decade, and many authors will support this type of work.


As online self-publication and ebooks are now common among writers, defamation has become the responsibility of the writer. Without a large publishing house reviewing your work, it can be easy to inadvertently defame an individual or a brand in your creative work. Anything that falsely hurts a person or company’s reputation can be construed as defamation, from blatant lies to false representations. Generally, material that is printed is permanent and open to an action from the defamed individual. Defamation law is complex, and it is best to speak to a lawyer if you are concerned about possibly publishing defamatory material.

Memoirs and Privacy Law

There is still no law in Australia that specifically addresses invasions of privacy. However, this may soon change. The NSW State Parliament’s Law and Justice Committee recommended in March that the State should create a new tort that allows individuals to sue for damages if their privacy had been invaded intentionally or recklessly. 

This may be relevant for authors who write memoirs in particular, as personal experiences involve other people who may not have wanted that experience publicised. At the moment, a response to the committee’s recommendation is not due until September. It’s worth noting, however, that claims for invasions of privacy can still be pursued through a combination of current civil and criminal laws, e.g. breach of confidence.

Key Takeaways

If you are a self-published author or are considering publishing your work online, it is useful to bear in mind the possibilities of defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement. Whether intentional or accidental, that may appear in your work. Remember that you own the copyright in your work and that you can enforce these rights against infringers. Unsure about your legal obligations as a self-publisher? Get in touch with our IP lawyers on 1300 544 755.


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