Sunday, October 2, 2016


        One of the most confusing aspects of the copyright law is the understanding and application of Fair Use. In this context Fair Use refers to the use of quotes from other people’s writings without asking permission. The problem is that the Fair Use guidelines in the copyright law are just that—guidelines. They do not give specific parameters, only general ones. The Fair Use section of the copyright law specifies four factors we must take into consideration when using quotes for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. The four factors to consider are (followed by my explanation):

  1. The purpose and character of the use; including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit, educational purposes.

Obviously you are more likely to qualify under this one if you are using it for nonprofit or educational purposes, rather than in an article or book you are planning to sell. It may still qualify for commercial purposes if it meets the following guidelines.

  1. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

Next, consider how large a quote you are using in relation to the entire piece you are quoting from. A one-page quote from a book is more likely to be acceptable, than a paragraph from a 500-word filler.

  1. The nature of the copyrighted work.

Is the quote from a poem or song? If so, you probably need permission. Is what you are quoting primarily factual or is it creative? If factual, you have more leeway here. If it is creative material (as opposed to factual), and more than just a line or two, you may need to ask permission.

  1. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

One of the most important considerations is whether you’re using this quote will help or hurt the author. If it leads others to seek out his/her material, it may help. If it actually replaces the market for that author’s material, then it will hurt. Simply ask yourself if you would be upset if someone else quoted you in a similar situation without asking permission. If so, ask.

A good example of inappropriate use here would be if you were writing a book on “How to Lead Bible Studies,” found a book on “10 Ways to Lead an Effective Bible Study”, pulled out that author’s basic list of 10 ways and wrote your own explanation of how to implement those 10 ways. In this case you have jeopardizes the market for their book by replacing it with your own.

Some writers mistakenly believe that if they paraphrase another author’s work, they will not have a problem from a “fair use” standpoint. They may be wrong. If they are paraphrasing a substantial portion, they may in fact be stealing the essence of that writer’s work—a violation of his/her copyright.

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