As we have pointed out in Part I and II of Secondary Sources, it is wise to seek out secondary sources in a search for original ones, but remember that often these sources will not serve an author in the same way original sources do—in any attempt to comply with copyright law. Below are some additional tips regarding use of secondary sources.
When seeking permission for textual secondary source items, look for a secondary source in a bibliography or on the acknowledgment page. This will give you a trail back to the original owner or current administrator. On the acknowledgments page you will see phrases such as “used with permission of the John D. Smith Estate” or “used with permission from Viking Penguin.”
Secondary sources are often collections of works such as you would find in anthologies and textbooks—and also on websites that collect the work of others. Some of these sources are legal, and some are infringing on a large scale. The sources may be able to publish some copyrighted content because they are non-profit and are claiming fair use. Or, they may just be slipping by under some publishers’ radar. But it’s unwise to assume every borrower of the same material will be able to copy and publish without detection or punishment.
Use of original sources may not guarantee an easy road to acquiring permission. Ownership can change hands overnight. Owners can be unresponsive. The temptation can be great to try one or two avenues and then, when no owner surfaces, to merely credit a secondary source and attempt to avoid a claim of infringement with a claim of due diligence, but often this action will not be enough to negate a claim of copyright infringement.
It is wise to seek out secondary sources in a search for original ones, but remember that often they do not serve the same purpose as original sources in any attempt to comply with copyright law.
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