So many of us learned early on in school that copying is OK as long as we give credit. I work with self-publishers often who have taken that lesson to heart in a big way and then hit a brick wall when trying to publish.
Now, some copy with no thought of the right or wrong of it. They have no concern about stealing someone else’s intellectual property as long as they feel they can get away with it. I am not addressing those scoundrels but rather those of us whose perception of value placed on written works or works in the creative arts may be skewed because of lessons learned long ago.
Our thinking can be foggy when it comes to what we think the author’s perception of our copying would be. Many of us as writers have some vague sense of “fair use” and may excuse our copying, thinking it’s a small enough amount to be considered “fair” by the work’s owner. We feel the owner will be “grateful for the publicity.” In many cases, this reaction is far from the one we may be confronted with after our work is published containing the infringing material.
Below are three tips for self-publishers regarding copying without clearing the rights:
1. There is no set number of words or amount of artwork defined in the US Copyright Law as a fair use.
2. Be very careful when using song lyrics and lines of poetry. The music industry is very litigious when it comes to protecting their interests. The publishing world is protective of the works of its popular poets as well. A few lines of a song or a few lines of a poem may constitute a substantial portion of the whole work and thus may have high value attached to them.
3. Photographers and artist value their work enough to keep an eagle eye out for illegal use of even a small portion of their work and many will consider legal action.
So, before using someone else’s work, it’s good for all of us to remember we are not writing an essay for our fifth grade teacher who may be thrilled at the fact we remembered to give credit to material copied from someone else. In the real world, when we are creating something of value and using in it another’s work which has value attached to it, we need to carefully consider whether we need permission to do so.
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