Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Word on Copyright

By Christine Thackeray

Recently, I co-authored a book entitled "C.S. Lewis: Latter Day Truths in Narnia." It was a lot of work to create the project, but the most challenging part was getting copyright for the many Lewis quotes and church quotes it contained. I really got an education and would like to share some of what I learned.

First, the concept of "Fair Use" is a legal myth. Fair Use is not determined by word count but by the publisher. If you go to Eerdmans Website and click on contact us and then under Rights and Policies, they have their fair use guidelines posted, which are very generous. You can use up to 300 consecutive words with a total of up to 5000 without permission.

On the other hand, if you go to Harcourt, they clearly state that "Harcourt, Inc. requires written permission for all reproduction and/or adaptation of our published works." They not only don't have fair use guidelines, but I found they charge considerably more for even the smallest quote. The key is you need to check with the publisher to see what their guidelines are or paraphrase and footnote so copyright is not an issue.

As to the LDS church, they have very clear rules set forth on their website but the bottomline is you have to ask permission for anything more recent than 95 years before 1976 which is 1881. Which makes the scriptures public domain, as far as I understand.

The government has a very good publication on the subject here, if you want to brush up on the details.

Now the reality is that unless your book makes a ton of money or is extremely controversial, you may not be sued for your violation, but it is probably best to play it safe. The most important reason for this is that most publishers have clauses in their contracts that hold the author soley responsible for copyright violation.

So use the quotes you love freely, just remember to ask permission. Once you begin asking you will see that many publishers will allow you to quote for free and are happy that you cited them.


Janet said...

Thanks for the information. How do you go about getting permission? Do you send the publisher a list of quotes you want to use? How long does it usually take to hear back from them?

Christine Thackeray said...

Most publishers have a form included. Some want your entire completed work, others only ask for pages with your work in it. Oh, and you have to have a contract for publication already secured in most cases. Each publisher is a little different but once you start looking around you'll see that most have guidelines very clearly delineated on their websites.

Terri Ferran said...


This information is very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to post it.

Jaime Theler said...

Thank you so much, Christine!

Janet Kay Jensen said...

I guess I'll be calling myself Janet J from now on. I agree with the comments posted by the other Janet.

Our experience in compiling The Book Lover's Cookbook was similar. Each publisher has its own policy, and we didn't find any two that were the same. This was enormously time-consuming. Fax was the quickest way to communicate with permissions departments.

Generally,the author is expected to pay all costs associated with acquiring permissions. And it is true that the author can be sued for using material without permission.

We were told that "fair use is what the judge says it is when you go to court." In other words, get permission on every copyrighted source you want to quote.

There are lawyers who specialize only in intellectual property, so it's taken very seriously.

Children's books are more expensive. Song lyrics are, too. Mary Higgins Clark said she had to pay Lerner and Lowe $40,000 to use "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady as her book's title.

Janet J

Janet Kay Jensen said...

the question was asked: how do you contact the publisher? Most publishers have a website and directions for requesting permission to use copyrighted material can usually be found there.

The larger publishers have permission departments; the smaller ones may provide contact information for one individual who handles requests.

Most publishers will send you their own contract which states the conditions and fees. Our publisher had provided us with a general contract, but we had to use what the other publishers required.

Janet J