Monday, April 02, 2012

Permissions for Quotes

I am revising the draft of my first novel, and part of it takes place in a school setting, where can see different inscriptions/quotes above doors and in various other places. These quotes are from works by well-known science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov (such as "Violence is the last refuse of the incompetent" from Asimov's Foundation series). I am curious whether or not I need to approach these writers' estates and ask permission to use them, or if that falls under a caveat in copyright law.

Quotes are probably okay, but don't quote me on that. Whenever you use any material from other sources--quotes, song lyrics, poems, etc.--it is your responsibility as the author to obtain permission for use in whatever format the book will be published. That means use in print, ebook, possible audio, in the U.S. and probably around the world. It is also your responsibility to pay for those permissions should any fees be required.

I can't tell you specifically which quotes you will need permission for and which you won't. I can't say that without knowing exact details and I'm not going to give advice here for fear I might be wrong. That being said, what I can tell you is that you don't need to get the permissions prior to submitting the material. The publisher will require all necessary permissions prior to publication, but for submissions you'll be fine.

What I can also say is when in doubt, ask. In other words, there are definitely copyright laws and then there is the protectiveness of an estate, which can be two separate things. If you have concerns it never hurts to contact the estate to ask.



JeffO said...

After reading a lot of posts and comments about the difficulty and expense of using song lyrics I scrapped the idea entirely for my manuscript.

By the way, I don't know if the error was in the question as it was originally asked, or if it was made in transcription, but it's 'refuge', not 'refuse'.

Bonnee Crawford said...

When reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, she introduced each new chapter with a quote from another book, and in the acknowledgments section she had credited those whom she had quoted. I'm not sure if she got permission or not, but perhaps do some research on what she did to help yourself out. :) Always good to ask.

Anne-Marie said...

I was very fortunate earlier this year to get permission to use some lyrics from Pete Townshend in the foreword of my novel by just asking him personally through his office assistant. It cost me nothing, and I very happily forwarded him a copy of the book as a thank you. I suspect the fact that my book was inspired by one of his songs made it easier, but I was very touched by his generosity nevertheless.

Does asking permission extend to using lyrics or song titles and making them your book titles? I seem to remember that titles are exempt from this, but I asked anyways and got the okay.

Sara D'Spain said...

I have asked the copyright office about using song lyrics, and their response was that as long as you site the artist, it was allowable.

Deborah J. Ross said...

Also, make sure you are quoting accurately. I believe the quote in the inquiry should read, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." It's a play on Samuel Johnson's quip, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Liz said...

I have wondered about using the names and description of real places - such as a resort, casino, hotel, restaurant, church, university, etc. Are permissions required for that type of thing?

Adelle Yeung said...

As with Liz, I was also curious about simply referring to movies or video games (and their characters and places).

Anne-Marie said...

Liz, I wouldn't think using the names of real places or products would be a problem. You'd be seeking permission endlessly.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Of course, works that are older than Asimov and Clarke and fall into public domain wouldn't require permission, right? So you'd be in the clear if you wanted to quote Verne or Shelley, for example.

@Liz and Adele: I agree with Anne-Marie that merely referencing a person or place doesn't require permission. They are facts, not works of art or imagination. However, one thing you might need to be wary of if quoting parts of popular culture is dating your material.

Adelle Yeung said...

Thanks, Kristin :D

Anonymous said...

I believe that using a short quote in this manner would fall under Fair Use.

With that said, Fair Use is not so much a protection as a defense. Someone could still file a lawsuit if they wanted to. So seeking permission would guarantee you were in the clear.

April Henry said...

Hm, I don't agree that it's okay to quote song lyrics as long as you cite the artist. Poems and song lyrics are short, so even a snippet is more than fair use. I have paid to quote song lyrics in two books, and have also negotiated with a writer's estate to quote from a poem.

Using song lyrics is a bad idea. First, someone has to figure out who owns the rights to the song. (In this case, my agent got someone in her office to do it.) Then you have to approach the lawyer. Lawyers don't like to sell the rights for you to use song lyrics in a book (because it doesn't happen often, it takes work, and they don't know what to charge) so they drag their feet. They also sometimes think they are dealing with a deep-pocketed publisher, and price accordingly. Nuh-uh. YOU are the one who has to pay.

You also have to send them the pages where the lyrics are going to appear and a portion of the text before and after, so they make sure it's not objectionable.

In 1998, I was dumb and ponied up $1,000. I would never do that now. By the time Learning to Fly came out in 2002, I knew how to work the ropes a bit better, and I got rights for $125.

1923 is the cut off year for copyright.

Helena said...

My own advice is to be very careful and sparing about quoting anything. Since I self-published my current novel (my first was pubbed by Bantam), I was the one who had to figure out rights and permissions. First off, there's a difference between British and American public domain laws, and what might appear to be legal in the U.S. ain't necessarily so in Britain, where your book could be listed by Amazon. For example, I had quotations from T.S. Eliot poems in my story, but discovered that his widow is still alive and has a death grip on the rights to certain poems by her husband, including ones from the 1920's, so I had to trim or eliminate those quotes. I completely cut out a few words from a Paul McCartney song because what the law says (the few words I quoted were fair use) and what artists' lawyers claim are usually two different animals. The quote wasn't worth the risk.

In the end I obtained free permission to quote up to 250 words from a non-fiction work (I arranged this via emails with a London publisher) and paid a music publisher $100 for the rights to two stanzas of Monty Python's "Every Sperm Is Sacred," which I couldn't do without because they were key to a plot twist. It took several phone calls, emails, and internet searches just to learn who held the publishing rights, but fortunately the company was professional and prompt.

Needless to say, I also have to make sure I keep all the paperwork for my permissions to protect myself legally. I've also decided that in the future I don't want to quote anyone who hasn't been dead for a hundred years. The same goes for their lawyers.