Tag s | Copyright

How Much Can I Quote From Another Source Without Permission?

Remember you can use the big red button at the bottom right-hand column of this blog page to ask us questions. (It is titled “Ask a Question.”)

Question:
“I don’t have a ton of quotes in this manuscript. Any I do are short—maybe a sentence. What’s your take on the whole permissions/“fair use” argument? Over the years, I have heard more interpretations/explanations of what’s required when quoting someone than I’ve got fingers and toes. What’s the current practice in Christian publishing?”

Answer:
It depends!
Every publisher sets their own threshold of “fair use” versus requiring permissions.

One publisher requires permission for using 25 words or more from any one source, aggregate over the entirety of your book. This means if you quote 16 words in one place and 10 words in another, you must get written permission. Other publishers have a higher threshold where up to 300 words from a single source is permissible.

I spoke to one college professor who said they could lose their job if they misused quotations in their class handouts without the proper permissions!

Be very careful. Intellectual property is the latest playground for litigation.

It doesn’t mean you can’t quote or use something; you must simply receive permission ahead of time. Be prepared to pay a fee for the use of that material. The cost depends on the source material and the extent of your use.

Below is an edited version of what one publisher gives to their authors as their guideline. It is a basic guideline, but not all publishers follow this. If you are an independent author, you need to be extremely careful. You don’t want to receive a cease and desist letter from a major estate or publisher because you have overstepped the boundaries.

I’ve added some comments in bold in the text below to help explain.

Permissions Guidelines by a Publisher

Assume that everything created by a “creator” is covered by copyright law (except for that which is public domain). This includes the written word, music, cartoons, illustrations, film, charts, diagrams, and photographs in any form. Permission must be obtained from the copyright holders to use copyrighted material if the material is beyond the fair use guidelines (see below).

The author is responsible to obtain all permissions and releases necessary for any material to be quoted in the manuscript and pay for such permissions if needed. Remember that it can take considerable time to obtain permissions (up to eight weeks or more). It is important to be in communication with your editor about what needs permission and how likely it is that the quoted piece will appear in the final manuscript since the editing process may eliminate material for which you had sought permission.

Written permission is required for the following:

  • 300 or more words from a single prose work in book form—fewer than 300 words is considered fair use. (This is a subjective standard that has not been fully defined by the court. Check with your publisher to find out where their threshold is.)
  • 200 or more words from an article or other brief work (see above).
  • If the quote exceeds 50 percent of the work (even if it is less than 200 words).
  • Three or more lines of poetry or song lyrics. (Be especially paranoid about using song lyrics. The singer does not control the rights. The writer of the song does, and the rights are likely held by a large company. Read this article for further understanding.)
  • Charts, graphs, maps, cartoons. (You can’t just Google an image and use it because it’s on the Internet! For example, the majority of photos at the top of our blog posts are purchased for that use from bigstockphoto.com.)
  • Material that is complete within itself, such as a chapter of a book, an essay, a short story, a paradigm (i.e. the “Pyramid of Success” by John Wooden).
  • Letters/correspondence—permission must be obtained from the writer of the letter, not the recipient.
  • An internal quotation within another quotation may require permission if it is copyrighted and exceeds the bounds of fair use.
  • (One publisher told me they require written permission to quote anyone who is quoted as saying something in the author’s memoir. Family members, coworkers, etc. Without their permission, they cannot be cited, in case they disagree and file a lawsuit. This is not always the case; but as always, check with your publisher.)

No permission is needed for any material in the public domain; however, the author, title, and publisher should be acknowledged. (See my article on when something becomes public domain.)

Other articles to read:
Jane Friedman’s “Writers Guide to Permissions and Fair Use”

by Steve Laube:
“Quote the Bible Carefully” (be sure to read this before quoting a Bible translation)
“The Cost of Permissions vs. Fair Use”
“The Landmine of Fair Use”

Others of interest:
From Hollywood Reporter: “Sony Sued Over William Faulkner Quote in ‘Midnight in Paris'”
From Plagiarism Today: “Copyright Myths”
From Entertainment Today: “Ed Sheeran Sued for Copyright Infringement for ‘Thinking Out Loud'”

 

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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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When Does a Book Become Public Domain?

Writers frequently ask about whether they need permission to quote from another book. The answer is usually yes. But if the book is in the public domain that permission is unnecessary. I don’t want to tackle the issue of “Fair Use” today, but instead provide a few links that you can use to find out if a book is in the public domain, or not.

First, use this form (http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~lesk/copyrenew.htmll).
This form searches the U. S. copyright renewal records database. Any book published during the years 1923-1963 which is found in this file is still under copyright, as are all books published after 1964 (although until 1989 they still had to have proper notice and registration). Books published before 1923, or before Jan. 1, 1964 and not renewed (in the 28th year after publication), are out of copyright and therefore in the public domain. The form only searches books, not music, etc.

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Name Brands in Fiction

So, you’re driving down the road, and you see a Ford F-350 with Monster wheels and an NRA bumper sticker. And you see a Toyota Prius with a Go Green bumper sticker. You know these are two different personalities driving the vehicles, right? You probably have formed an image already. …

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Happy 85th Birthday Mickey Mouse!

by Steve Laube

 On this day in 1928 the film “Steamboat Willie” made its debut. The main cartoon character (almost named Mortimer!) was featured and Mickey Mouse was born.

You might ask, “So what? Other than fun trivia, what does this mean to me as a writer?” Actually the success of Mickey Mouse and the Disney empire cuts to the heart of today’s copyright laws which affect you and your work. A quick recital of history and you’ll see how Mickey is either your friend or your adversary depending on your opinion of copyright protection.

In 1787 the Founding Fathers established a copyright term of 14 years, and if the author was still alive a renewal for an additional 14 years. Many years later it was extended to 28 years with a 28 year renewal option (a total of 56 years).

Then in 1976 Congress passed a new law that set three new and important rules:
a) copyright protection was defined as the life of the author plus 50 years
b) Material produced before 1922 was considered public domain
c) Material already under copyright in 1976 were given an extension. Their works were protected for 75 years instead of 56 years.

If you do the math, that meant that in 1997 some of these older works were going to start going into the public domain (and Mickey Mouse would become public in 2003). So the corporations began lobbying for a revision to the copyright law.

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The Cost of Permissions vs. Fair Use

by Steve Laube

Every book contract has a clause that reads something along these lines:

If permission from others is required for publication of any material contained in the Work or for exercise of any of the rights conferred by this Agreement, Author shall obtain such permissions at Author’s expense, in a form acceptable to Publisher, and shall deliver such permissions to the Publisher as part of the complete manuscript of the Work. Permissions shall cover all territories, rights and editions covered by this Agreement.

In other words, if you use someone else’s book you must get permission or a license and cover the cost of that license. Be sure to consult with your agent or your publisher when securing the license to make sure it fully covers your project. Some places will charge for the first x number of copies and then require that you pay again if you sell more.

There are some projects where the permissions and licensing are a bit more complicated, especially with certain non-fiction books. For example, our clients Khaldoun Sweis and Chad Meister created Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Zondervan, 2012). This 560 page book compiles selections from over fifty primary sources that address various challenges in the history of Christian apologetics. The compilation includes a wide range from Saint Augustine to Saint Teresa of Avila and Blaise Pascal, to more recent and present day apologists such as C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig (our client), and Richard Swinburne. (Click here for a sample chapter PDF and the Table of Contents.) To include every chapter’s material where the source was still under copyright the authors had to pay for the permission. They used the advance monies received from the publisher to secure those licenses.

Another example is our client’s project The Kingdom of the Occult (Thomas Nelson, 2008). (Click here for a sample of this work.) This 752 page reference book by the late Walter Martin and co-edited by Jill Martin Rische and Kurt Van Gorden has over 3,000 citations in it. When some of the citations are collected they comprise a good portion of the original source material. So they had to secure the permissions and pay for the licenses to use that source material in their book.

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The Landmine of Fair Use

by Steve Laube

Remember you can use the big green button to the right of this blog to ask us questions. Recently we received two that were on the issue of fair use of other people’s writing.

Steve,
What are the standard fair use rules for quotes of other published works? I used quotes in my book and my understanding was that if it was less than 250 words then you don’t need permission. But a friend is self-publishing and is concerned about quotations fearing she might get sued.

Always err on the side of getting permission.

One major publisher we work with has the author get permission for any quotations from a single source that is more than 25 words, collected (aggregate) across all uses of that source in the book. So if one quote is 10 words and 100 pages later is a quote for 20 words, the author must get permission.

Another requires the author get a written release from every person they interviewed and quoted in their non-fiction project. Including family members like your spouse, parents, or friends.

For more information read this excellent article by publishing attorney Kelly Way called “All’s Fair in Love and War – But Not in Copyright Law.”

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News You Can Use – July 3, 2012

What Retailers Know that Publishers Need to Know – Mike Shatzkin analyzes the importance of data in what is truly the “Science of Bookselling.”

Your Hotel Bible is now a Kindle – This is a new one. Kindles in the nightstand in your hotel room with the Bible pre-loaded. Fascinating.

Using Evernote for Screenwriting – Brilliant adaptation of the Evernote software by Héctor Cabello Reyes.

The Incredible Resilience of Books – Peter Onos wrote a great article that the naysayers quickly skewered. Which side of the debate do you land on?

Thou Shalt Not Steal Shaun Groves Music – The artist makes a statement “If everyone stops paying for music, then music will stop being made.” Do you agree? Does it apply to books as well?

Solve Mysterious Bible Passages like Sherlock Holmes – Eric McKiddie writes a very clever article. Well done!

Be Your Agent’s Dream Client – Agent Greg Johnson tells it straight. (from the ACFW blog)

Bacon for Calvinists! (Thank you Kevin DeYoung)- see below:

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News You Can Use – Mar. 6, 2012

Your Average Facebook Post Only Reaches 12% of Your Friends – Exposing yet another challenge to the world of marketing, either through traditional means or through social media.

New French Law Seizes Digital Rights – “Any book published in France–which would include translated foreign-language books–that went out of print in France–not necessarily elsewhere–before 2001, can be scanned into a database.” And then be made available without compensation.

It Has Come to This in Hollywood – GCB. Fire up the TiVo for that one… Good grief.

From Idea to Store Shelf – I love these kind of stories. Shows the incredible “curation” it takes for a good idea to become great and then what it takes to bring it to market. There are many parallels to the writing and publishing industry here.

Give it Five Minutes, Then React to an Idea – A good reason why appointments at a conference are 15 minutes long.

Free Mac Tools That Make Writing Easier – Agree or disagree? What tools do you use? And if you are on a PC, what do you use?

Anatomy of a Successful Press Release – Try writing one for your own book. Discover that is ain’t easy.

Eight Basic Don’ts for the Beginning Novelist – Steve Moore provides some great stuff. Good reminders for those who think they know this already.

This is a very clever ad for the British newspaper, “The Guardian.”
Click to view “The Three Little Pigs.”

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News You Can Use – Feb. 21, 2012

My Favorite Article of the Week – Please read it and make your agent happy.

What Publishers Can Learn From the Airlines– Andy Le Peau of IVP renders a very clever take on what publishing could look like if they would only emulate other industry practices.

Amanda Knox Signs a $4 Million Book Deal – Sigh…Think about it for a second. In 2005 a relatively unknown senator from Illinois got $1.9 Million for two non-fiction books, his name was Barak Obama. And right before he took office as president he signed a $500,000 advance deal for a children’s book. Former President Bill Clinton got $8 Million up front for his memoir. And former President George Bush received $7 Million for his Decision Points memoir.

Do You Ignore Issue of Copyright? – This article shows the complexity of copyright when going from one country to the next. For example, Hemingway is public domain in Canada, but not in France. Do you even care?

Men are from Google+, Women are from Pinterest – clever article

Adult vs. YA Dystopian Novels – Interesting look at the phenomenon of dystopian novels in today’s YA market. And if you don’t know what that means, click the link.

25 Subordinating Conjunctions – I was afraid to read the article too. Clever help for flat writing.

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