As writers, we have been taught that in researching for our work, we should, whenever possible, go to the original or primary source—to get our information straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Because many times this activity is a time sucker, we choose a less demanding path. We get it through the grapevine. In other words, we settle for a secondary source. As a content editor who also does copyright clearance and permissions tracking, I can attest to the fact that failure to follow this sage advice—not going to the horse’s mouth—can cause you problems in at least two areas.
The first area is in the perception of your professionalism. One danger of citing secondary sources rather than primary sources is that you may lose credibility with your readers. Many writers often cite an anthology, a blog, or a website as their source for factual content, theory, and/or quotations created by a third party. Discerning readers are often put off by the fact the writer could not or did not bother to guide them to the primary work used so they could make some kind of assessment about its deserving of their acceptance.
The second area is the problem this laxity causes in clearing copyright for the work the lazy author uses. In almost every instance, a secondary source cannot grant permission for a copyrighted work they, themselves, have cited. They either acquired permission from the creator to use the content in their work, assumed a fair use, or used it while operating under a blissful misconception of some aspect of copyright law like the one that it’s always acceptable for a writer to copy another’s work as long as he gives credit.
Not going to the horse’s mouth during the writing process and then discovering the need to get permission from copyright owners when a manuscript is in its final stages of becoming a book can be a shock to the writer’s system. Even if the primary source can be found quickly and the request can be sent off almost immediately, it may take months to receive a reply to a permission request. Sometimes when the response finally comes, it is a denial. These scenarios can slow down or even halt publication.
When possible, it’s best to rely on copyrighted content for which you have located the original work because you are more likely to find the creator or an administrator of its rights. It’s best always, when using the work of others in your writing, to consider the source—vine or equine.
Copyright © 2011 Integrated Writer Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved. For permission to excerpt content from this blog, contact Joyce Miller via our Contact Us form.
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