Quoting Copyrighted Text in Novels

Originally published September 13, 2017

I recently ran into two projects where quotes were used in the books that infringed on copyrights. The question was, "How do we use the quotes legally?" 

The answer is permissions. If you contact the publisher or artist and gain permission, you can use the copyrighted materials, but you also have to include their copyright on your copyright page. 

So, the first one I ran into was a devotional. It was the first project like this that I had ever run into before, so I had to do a lot of research! There were a lot of different versions of translations and Bibles that were quoted, and, as I discovered, they all have different rules. You have to look up each version of the Bible and who publishes it, and then look for "permissions." 

For the Bible, this was pretty easy, and I think it's because there are so many verses quoted from them on a semi-regular basis. For the most part, I just had to make sure that there were less than 500 quotes verses and that the quoted text was less than 25% of the entire manuscript. Because we were under that, we didn't have to request permission. We simply had to use their copyright information language which was easy to locate on their site. 

The next one was a casually quote song. The excerpt is this: 

The drive in had him humming an old tune. The group wasn’t important, and neither was the name of the song, but whoever it was would walk a million miles, climb the highest hill… just to have her near…

That sounds really cool, but I needed to know if we could even use this. This falls under the the U.S. Fair Use Law.  This is what I found on Copyright.com

Fair use is a uniquely U.S. concept, created by judges and enshrined in the law. Fair use recognizes that certain types of use of other people’s copyright protected works do not require the copyright holder’s authorization. In these instances, it is presumed the use is minimal enough that it does not interfere with the copyright holder’s exclusive rights to reproduce and otherwise reuse the work.

Examples of Fair Use Include:

  • Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.

  • Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations.

  • Reproduction of material for classroom use where the reproduction was unexpected and spontaneous–for example, where an article in the morning’s paper is directly relevant to that day’s class topic.

  • Use in a parody of short portions of the work itself.

  • A summary of an address or article, which may include quotations of short passages of the copyrighted work.

So, technically, we'd have to see if we could get permission. 

But that's if it was even quoted right. 

I think the song he was going for was I'm Gonna Be (500 More) by the Proclaimers. But it could also be A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton. So, the way he had it in the book looks like it could be a copyright infringement, but it was a misquote of two songs. The song was alluded to as a part of conversation. No titles or artists were named, so in this instance, it looks like we're fine on copyright.  

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