Oh Susanna – What About Copyright Infringement?

Happy Monday, Everyone!

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgiving weekends!  Did anyone get a Christmas tree yet?  I saw a surprising number of cars with trees up on their roof racks, and while I love having a Christmas tree I know better than to get one this early.  I have a bad habit of forgetting to put water in the the stand, so our trees have a tendency to dry up rather faster than one might hope.  If we got one a whole month head it would look exactly like that tree in How The Grinch Stole Christmas by December 25th… you know… a bare dried up brown thing with no needles whatsoever 🙂

So how exciting is this?  We’ve got an Oh Susanna question today!  It feels like it’s been ages!

Here’s the question of the day:

Oh, Susanna, lately there has been a lot of talk about bloggers putting pictures (not their own pictures that they have taken, but images found on sites like Google) on their blogs. But I have seen some picture books read in their entirety on YouTube with each spread visible. Isn’t this really chancy, too? Does this break copyright rules? Or does an author feel that this is a wonderful form of advertisement for their books?

I have to say, this is something I have wondered too, because I have also seen picture books on YouTube in this form and I simply can’t believe it.  My knowledge of law is not as extensive as you might think, given that you can’t swing a cat in my family without hitting a lawyer 🙂 (my grandfather, both my parents, and one of my brothers are all lawyers!)  I don’t think any of my contracts specifically say it is against copyright to read the book aloud and show all the pictures in a YouTube video, but the message of most contracts, whether they’re that specific or not, is quite clear.  The general idea is NOT to give away the book you worked so hard on and that the publisher spent a lot of time and money producing.

And make no mistake, that is what you’re doing.  If you read a picture book in its entirety and show all the pictures in a YouTube video you have given away your book (or someone else’s should you happen to be reading a book that’s not your own.)  Where is the incentive for anyone to buy the book if they can view it whenever they want for free?  I would think that was a serious copyright infringement, far worse than posting a single picture you don’t own.

By making a book available in this way, you are potentially taking away someone’s royalties and cutting into their sales numbers.  You are sharing something that isn’t yours to share.

In answer to the second part of your question, although I as an author would be flattered if someone liked one of my books enough to share it in this way, I would be very unhappy and hurt if someone were to do it.  The only entity that would have the right to do something like that is the publisher, and they would have no reason to.

I’d be very interested to hear from everyone, though, what you think about this.  Is it okay to make videos such as those described above?  Would you feel like you were doing the author/illustrator a favor, or celebrating the book, or helping in some way?  I’m looking forward to the discussion, because maybe I’m wrong…!

Have a great day, everyone! 🙂

80 thoughts on “Oh Susanna – What About Copyright Infringement?

  1. Iza Trapani says:

    Wow, what a great forum! Thank you, Susanna and all of you for your insightful comments. I am not sure I see this as piracy. Piracy, I believe is actual stealing for one's own benefit, whereas copyright infringement can be more innocent. Having been both a perpetrator and a victim of copyright infringement, that is my understanding. Ok, I know you are curious so I'll tell you!: I was sued for infringing on the first verse of “I'm a Little Teapot'. Having seen it in numerous anthologies listed as traditional, I assumed it was in public domain. Not so. There was a copyright on it in 1967. We settled and the book continues to be in print. We give them credit on the copyright page. But then a few years ago, a friend of mine was listening to a tape put out by a very big company (I'll omit the name) and one of my nursery rhyme songs was on it. No credit was given for my lyrics. They also assumed it was traditional. Still, we had a settlement and basically I broke even between the two lawsuits! What goes around comes around 🙂 I am now very cautious. I think most people don't have malicious intents, they are simply unaware, uninformed. Still, it is a problem for the creators…..

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thank you, Beth. This is a very interesting and helpful comment. I think it's an indication we've hit a nerve when there are so many lengthy comments – people have a lot to say about things that matter to them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge – we all benefit!

  3. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks for answering, Richa. I'm glad to hear that publishers gave you permission – I think it's a matter of observing the rules, really, everyone likes to be asked 🙂 And you (or anyone else who shows one interior spread with permission) are certainly not doing any harm that I can see whetting people's interest in a book by showing a teaser. I'm so glad if you found this discussion helpful. You can thank Penny for asking the question – it was a good one! 🙂

    Richa Jha wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Most did, Susanna. I think it's also because there are very few platforms available for children's book publishers in India to get their books featured. Moreover, because I am more of an insider to this industry – and the numbers are small – publsihers know about me. Things then tend to work at a more personal level (without coming in the way of honest critiques of their books). But, in a couple of cases, I did not hear back from them. But I've gone ahead and shown the doublespreads from their books too. But now that we are having this discussion, it makes sense for me to be absolutely sure on this front with the publishers who did not respond. Can't thank you enough for raising this issue here today, Susanna!

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  4. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thank you, Penny, for posing the question! We certainly did seem to hit a nerve! So many excellent, thoughtful comments on this issue, and I think you've got it exactly right, that it's something that needs to be addressed but it's hard to know quite how. I agree that Vivian's videos are just right, and feel bad for Iza that her work was essentially stolen by not being properly credited! Thanks again for a great question!

  5. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing that, Iza. This certainly has turned into quite the discussion, and I think we've all learned something here today. Basically I think it boils down to being considerate of other people's hard work and intellectual property, and erring on the side of caution if you're not sure what's okay. I think you're right that most people do it innocently and have no thought of malicious intent or personal gain.

  6. Juliet Clare Bell says:

    Hi Susanna. I've not had time to read all the comments but from a personal point of view, I think it's great advertising. My personal feeling is that no one who'd consider buying a picture book would change their mind because they had the chance of watching some random person read it whenever they wanted to (where's the cuddling up and page turning together and spotting things in the illustrations if you're watching it?). It's a completely different experience. A friend found a fab reading of her book recently and her publisher contacted the boy to thank him and ask if he'd consider reading more stories. I also contacted him and he's going to read mine, too! You are ALL VERY WELCOME INDEED to read any of my books, in their entirety, on youtube and I will help share it round and be extremely grateful. I think it's a lovely thing. And WAY more likely to encourage a purchase than discourage one. (I've already got my daughter reading Don't Panic, Annika! (ill. Jennifer E Morris; Piccadilly Press) on youtube, at the book launch, and I'm going to get some other people to record the ones in other languages, and get another daughter to read 'The Kite Princess' (ill. Laura-Kate Chapman; Barefoot). It means it comes up in search engines if someone's written the name of the book and the author in the title.
    I'll come back and read some other comments later after my deadline, but hooray for people reading on youtube (and I'd even check before buying a book to see if it's on youtube and if I like it, I'll go and buy it). Thanks, Clare.

  7. Juliet Clare Bell says:

    It's really interesting, because all the British people I've talked to about it in the past are REALLY up for it. But I know that one of my American online critique group friends had shown concern that I had posted up someone reading my first picture book. I wonder if there is a divide…? I'd love the thought that someone felt strongly enough about my book to record and share with others. And if (though I don't think it would happen) you lost a couple of sales because people loved the reading enough to watch it over and over but, say, couldn't afford to buy it (or their parents couldn't) then I'd say hooray for it being there and providing access. But I really really don't think that would be happening.

  8. Vivian Kirkfield says:

    Oh Julie, if this was a schoolroom class, you would see my hand waving wildly…may I , may I? I'd LOVE to read one of your wonderful books as part of my Picture Books and Crafts for Kids series.:)

  9. Laura Anne Miller says:

    Susanna, I'm a day late stopping by – but I'm certainly glad I didn't miss this discussion. Wonderful comments and input. I only have a little funny to add…When I read to my grandkids (2 & 4) I always say the title, and written by______and drawn by __________. My grand girls expect to hear it. The other day when their mom started to read 'Barnyard Dance' (their favorite) to them she just plunged into the story. Both girls started to yell and protest…no, no, Mom, you forgot to say Sandra Boynton! Then when I was reading a Fisher-Price board book there was no author listed—that took some explaining on my part….corporation was not in their vocabulary. So finally I told them it was written by Mr. Fisher and Mr. Price.

  10. Juliet Clare Bell says:

    Of course! Picture books are for sharing. I can see it as more of a problem if it's a novel as you're less likely to reread it but a picture book is designed to be read and re-read and re-re-read. PLEASE do and then give me the link (probably easiest to facebook friend me?) and I'll send the link round for others to see. As a matter of interest, my editor at Barefoot (Tessa Strickland, co-founder and editor in chief) has today been asked by someone who's doing a feature and giveaway for The Kite Princess for libraries around the UK, if it's ok to post me reading the whole book up there for people to see. her response? 'Of course!'. Thank you. -Clare.

  11. Juliet Clare Bell says:

    oh, and Vivian, The Kite Princess is about a girl who makes a kite without anyone realising so she can be free… there's kite-making notes in the back, but you could easily do your own kite-making craft activity… Have fun!

  12. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I'm so glad to hear your experience and opinion, Clare! Thank you for sharing the other side of the coin. I definitely agree that it's great for stories to be available for kids who might not get to read them otherwise, and I think it is a good advertisement if the story is read well and if the author and illustrator are credited. I'm interested in the US vs. UK opinion – it seems that many US people feel strongly against such readings, including Emma Dryden who has vast experience as an editor for a very prestigious publishing house, and yet you and your editor have no problem with it and actually embrace it. Why such a difference, I wonder?!

  13. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    That is great to know, Maureen! Thank you so much for chiming in!

    Maureen Lynas wrote, in response to Juliet Clare Bell:

    I absolutely agree with Clare. These people are celebrating your books and not making money from them. They are free advertising and I have bought books after seeing youtube videos.

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  14. Susanna Leonard Hill says:


    Vivian Kirkfield wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Thank you so very much, Susanna…I came to see your reply first thing this morning…I am relieved that you feel what I am doing is 'okay'…and I was thrilled to read Juliet's response.:)

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  15. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks for chiming in and sharing your experience, Clar!

    Clarike Bowman-Jahn wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    I own my copyright not the publisher. So I can do as I wish with my book although I had told her about it being on iTunes with my name and title of the book.

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  16. Juliet Clare Bell says:

    Nosy Crow, another publisher from the UK, are also embracing it, having just discovered one accidentally on YouTube and have asked the boy in question to do more. Maybe it really is a US/UK thing…?

  17. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Maybe so. I definitely think there are pros to it. I guess the question being debated was more about rights and permission and being asked, but ultimately it doesn't matter too much if it's a good thing.

    Juliet Clare Bell wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Nosy Crow, another publisher from the UK, are also embracing it, having just discovered one accidentally on YouTube and have asked the boy in question to do more. Maybe it really is a US/UK thing…?

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  18. Tina Cho says:

    I'm joining this conversation late…but I've skimmed through some of the comments. I agree to what you've said Susanna, but I'm also guilty of being the one USING the infringed book! Being out of country, I don't have access to an English library filled w/picture books. One incident I was looking for the “The Empty Pot” and since I don't own it, I looked online for an online copy. Lo and behold…it showed up on You Tube with someone reading it. So I did have my son watch it to go with his homeschool lesson. And we like Barnes and Noble online storytime, but the author reads his/her own pb. Maybe you should do that so we can have access to one of your books and your lovely voice 🙂

  19. Julie Hedlund says:

    I just got to this post, but it's interesting to me the difference in opinion across countries. I think the U.S. as a whole is a very litigious society and becomes more so by the day. That said, sharing an ENTIRE book seems to me a definite violation of the copyright, especially, as in Iza's case, if no credit was given.

    The other issue is how the book is portrayed. Is it a great reading or a poor one? Is the reader recommending the book or slamming it? There is so much room for interpretation and it's so subjective. But in my view (the daughter of a lawyer), in the same way you can't plagiarize or share a photo online that's not yours, you shouldn't be able to read a book in its entirety that you didn't write unless you have the explicit permission of the author. Sections, yes. Entire book, no.

    For those of you who do book reviews in this way, understand that the law protects the owners of the copyright. As harmless as it may seem, especially if you are praising and promoting the book, you CAN be sued and will likely lose if that happens. So my advice is to share excerpts but not the whole book.

  20. Julie Hedlund says:

    It would only be copyright infringement if they had done the recording without permission from the author, but it sounds like Clar gave them permission. Which is a whole separate topic too. When the lines of promotion and piracy blur!

  21. Hannie says:

    Susanna, I'm a teacher that runs an educational website for Kindergarteners. I've wanted to read some books out loud that I've purchased through the years and put them in a video. If I were to put a link up showing where you could purchase the book, and note the author and illustrators name would that be acceptable?
    Thank you!

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