Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quoting Other Books in Your Novel...

Today I am going to attempt to tackle part two of my copyright discussion.

Quoting Other Authors/Literary Work

Basically, copyright exists from the time of creation and extends for 70 years past the author's death. You may have heard 50 -- and that was true at one point. But, according to the US Copyright Office, it currently stands at 70. The subsequent author's estates can, in some cases, be granted a copyright extension.

What is Fair Use?
The fair use provision allows scholarly journals, newspapers and review periodicals to quote parts of the novel without penalty. It does not generally apply to works of fiction with commercial (money making) aim.

What does that mean for me?
It means you can not freely quote a literary work if the author is alive or dead less than 70 years without permission. Don't let this scare you off....permission is often granted with just a letter of request. Most times, a fee is not even charged. Still, it must be a part of the process. Note: in my research, I read that most copyright owners will not grant permission on works not under contract...meaning, this is a bridge you may have to cross with your future publisher.

What if I play dumb?

Silly you! If you are thinking things like...'will I even be caught?' or 'won't they see it as a grand complement and be happy I used their novel as part of my own?', then you need to rethink.
Having a quote in your novel is fine. Just be aware that it carries restrictions and requirements that can not be overlooked. Having this information and being willing to address the issue will go far in making you appear professional when you discuss your novel with potential agents and publishers.

Public Domain

Many, many books are in the public domain. A great place to search them is at the Project Gutenberg site. They have over 28,000 public domain works available! Note that these books are old. Some are classics, others are just old. Still, it's fun to poke around their site. They even have free downloads!

Final Legal Note

Hey guys....I'm no lawyer. This is just a review of the research I have done in regards to writing my own novels. Feel free to dig into the copyright laws and teach us all even more :)

The Bottom Line

If you have a literary work quoted in your novel, you really need to research the author -- learn the copyright status -- document your findings. It will help you protect your own work and look more professional along the way.

Did you know this? Do you have anything to add? Let's discuss it!


Litgirl01 said...

GREAT POST!!! I was going to do a similar post...I have done some research on this myself. All the novels that I involved in my WIP are over 70 years old. Definitely NOT good to ignore copyright infringement. As a professional writer (as a writer), it is your responsibility to give credit where credit is due. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't get past editing though.

Danyelle said...

Great post! This very thing has come up in the last year or so. It's just not smart to do it--wrong, that is. Plagiarism isn't something anyone would want to mess with!

Good stuff to know. Thanks!

Davin Malasarn said...

Thanks for this great post. I have to quote or summarize a lot of material in my day job, so the idea of citations is familiar to me. From the original writer's point of view, it's also very frustrating when someone describes your work or ideas and doesn't give you credit for it. Making sure you are doing the right thing with other people's words is the respectful thing to do.

Lady Glamis said...

Well, good thing all I've used is classic pieces that I know for sure are public domain. *sigh of relief*

Thank you for this awesome awesome post! You need to put these great posts in your side bar. :D

Cindy said...

Yes! Walt Whitman has definitely been dead for over 70 years. Thanks for this post. I've been waiting for this information and it's good to hear. And you make a good point about doing research. I just spent a week e-mailing back and forth with a record company for permission to use a song in a book trailer and it showed me how important it is to know the rules and to follow them.

Wendy said...

I loved the question: What if I play dumb? with the response: Silly you!
That made me laugh this morning!
~ Wendy

Tess said...

I'm glad the info could be of help. And, we're not discussing plagerism here...just to clarify. No one would quote someone's work and pull that off as their own. We are talking about having a character quote a line from Shakespeare (which would be fine, since he is looooong dead) or a line from Water For Elephants (which would NOT be fine...since that author is still alive). Or quote a line from The Temptations.....also not kosher since they are old - but not old enough.

Jill Kemerer said...

Lots of great information here Tess. Thanks for sharing it.

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Tess! I stopped by to say thanks for popping over to my blog today! I just loved reading your post about your agent news! Congratulations! And I can totally understand those mixed emotions. I was so excited to FINALLY get an agent, but then overwhelmed and a little scared too. This isn't "what if" any more. This is the real deal. Best to you!