Copyright rules can often seem confusing when it comes to using the works of others in a new book. Authors frequently use others’ creative material for purposes of review, commentary, reporting, criticism or artistic emphasis. Some books are even devoted exclusively as tributes to or biographies of other writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, or other creative individuals who hold the copyright on the material an author wishes to use in his or her writing.
In some instances, reviewers/commentators are able to use certain material under fair use statutes as long as they state the title and original creator’s name. In a number of cases, they are able to do so as long as they are not using the material for any type of commercial, for-profit venture. The same fair use rule applies to non-profit blogs as well as other published works. Copyright issues become more complex with book publishing for monetary gain. In these instances, the author does need to go through the proper channels to get permission for this type of use.
Fair Use Basics
This US Copyright Statue details when it is appropriate to use someone else’s published work without first seeking permission:
“Copyright Disclaimer under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.”
When quoting copyrighted words to illustrate a point for commentary or criticism, an author can do this without permission as long as he or she encloses the words in quotes and follows the quote with the creator’s name and the title of the original work. Even in cases of using works in the public domain or with creative commons licenses, it is considered proper form for authors to still include the artists’ or other writers’ names in this manner. When quoting more than three words in a book to be published for monetary gain, the writer needs to obtain written permission from the copyright owner. Thanks to the large volume of information available online, locating the copyright owner is now a simpler process than in the past.
Using Copyrighted Song Titles and Lyrics
Some authors like to quote song lyrics for artistic purposes in their writing, and they do need to obtain the necessary permissions to include them in any work to be sold for profit. The standard procedure is to research the music publishing company that holds the copyright to a particular song and then to contact this organization directly. Many music publishing houses prefer queries by postal mail, but some will also accept them by email. When asking permission, the author needs to include the title of the song, the artist, the specific lyrics to be used and the details of the book to be published.
Using Copyrighted Images in a Book
The process for images is much the same as contacting the copyright holder of song lyrics for permission to use them in a book. With most images not in the public domain, the original photographer or artist holds the copyright. If an image has been previously published in a magazine or another book, chances are good the publishing house owns that copyright and will need to be contacted first.
In the best case scenarios, the book author who wants to use song lyrics or images in his or her book will get copyright permission without the need to pay any fees. In other less-than-ideal cases, the cost for permission is quite high compared to the book’s projected profitability. Some copyright holders may never respond to an author’s query, and this case requires the writer to include legal statements on the copyright page stating that all efforts have been exhausted to obtain copyright permission.