U.S. Copyright law fair use–an answer at last

Here’s the non-expert again, delving into what authors are allowed to quote without written permission from the copyright holder. I researched. I read. I researched more. I found the answer in a federal government circular. Before I added it to this post, I researched whether I would violate the copyright laws to post a segment. Whew! All clear. I can quote a federal circular without governmental permission.

May I have the envelope please!

But wait! Let’s see how James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author used quotes in his fictional mystery Worst Case co-authored with Michael Ledwidge (Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, 2010).

Page 62: “Wait a second! That’s it. ‘Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.’ The poem is called Ash Wednesday, by T. S. Elliott. What does it mean? How does it tie into the kidnapping?”

Page 247: “A snatch of grammar school Robert Frost came to him as he picked up his pace. He recited to himself, But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Page 339:  “…when the hired ten-piece swing band started playing ‘New York, New York. “I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep,” they sang, Rockette-kicking in front of the laughing tuxedoed musicians.”

See the pattern? Quotes and the source are in dialogue, not the narrator’s voice, and italicized for emphasis. I found no permission acknowledgements anywhere in the book.

Here’s the official interpretation of Fair Use from a U.S. Government circular I mentioned at the beginning (drum roll please!):

Although the courts have considered and ruled upon the fair use doctrine over and over again, no real definition of the concept has ever emerged. Indeed, since the doctrine is an equitable rule of reason, no generally applicable definition is possible, and each case raising the question must be decided on its own facts.

(Fair Use Reproduction of Copyrighted Works, page 4) http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf

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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “U.S. Copyright law fair use–an answer at last

  1. Thanks so much for clarifying a subject that’s confusing to all of us. You’ve provided a great service to all writers by delving into this mystery.

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