Don’t Steal Others’ Words

There are limits to “fair use.”IMG_7468 adj 2to3

by Andy Scheer

Halfway through the manuscript, I’ve found three violations that could land author in big trouble. At the least they could prevent the book from getting published.

First this author quoted a full poem, mentioning only the author’s name. Sorry, but that’s not what’s considered “fair use.” To use an entire poem that’s not in the public domain—more than just the title or at most three or four lines—you need written permission from the copyright holder. As the September 8, 2011, opinion piece by David Orr in the New York Times said, “When Quoting Verse, One Must Be Terse.”

To make sure the publisher and the reader know you’ve received permission, include that on your copyright page—the same place you acknowledge every Bible translation you cite.

Not sure how that wording about Bible use should read? Check the front of your Bible or the copyright section for the Bible website. (Here’s a link to the section for the English Standard Version on Bible Gateway.)

Then the same author quoted 106 words from a Washington Post article. The trouble comes because there was no footnote or no mention in the text of either the publication date or web address. While the author wasn’t writing a scholarly manuscript, that’s still poor form.

Finally came the real lawsuit bait. The author included the full lyrics of a contemporary song. Without permission, I don’t advise citing more than the title and paraphrasing a key idea, like how the 1960s song “Chapel of Love” talks about going to the chapel and getting married.

Want to dig deeper about quoting from songs? Start with the online article “How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer” by Helen Sedwick on The Book Designer website. (I hope I’ve cited enough to stay out of trouble. I hope you do, too.)

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About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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