Copyright: How Publishers See Quoting, Paraphrasing, Etc.

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Because publishers can have a different take on copyright law than professors (as I have read), it would be nice if someone were to give a general guide to what is expected, and what is and is not acceptable, from a publisher's perspective. For example (I personally want to know):


  • Do short paraphrases and summaries of copyrighted text (sentences, paragraphs) need explicit permission like quotes do?
  • What about small pieces of translated text (or other derivatives) from copyrighted works? Should these be treated as quotations?
  • Do publishers have any objections to using public domain works? (What kind of evidence do they want for a work's public domain status? Do they avoid using any public domain content whatsoever? What about modern works submitted to the public domain?)
  • What about the exceptions some works give on their copyright page? (For example, "permission is not necessary if text is limited to X amount," "permission is not necessary for the following uses.")

In my own case, I'm putting together a study Bible which uses public domain content and some copyrighted content. The Bible text itself is public domain, and smaller bits of public domain content is used in the form of quotations, translations, paraphrases, etc. in the various extra (study) content. The copyrighted content is limited to paraphrases, summaries, and perhaps even a quotation or two in the extra (study) content.

(Note: I was hoping to either start a sticky about this post's title, or inspire one. I didn't see any stickied posts that directly address what publishers think of quoting, paraphrasing, etc, and I'm sure one would be very helpful, especially to those of us who have never published a book before.)
 
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Chris P

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There is a lot of information and misinformation out there regarding fair use. I've seen incorrect information presented even here on AW. Your best bet is to consult with an intellectual property attorney, especially if you are self publishing. If you find an agent or a publisher, they should be able to help you with that (and make sure they are consulting their own attorneys and not going on someone's hunch!).
 

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* The Bible is not public domain automatically; specific translations are. Mostly outdated ones.
* Fair use is determined by a judge and jury. That means court costs, and time.
* Ask permission for quotations; academics do this all the time.
* Absolutely ask permission for block quotes or several quotes from the same work.
* Paraphrasing can be tricky, even it you fully cite.

We can't offer legal advice; so no sticky.

Honestly, though, I've never had a publisher request money or say no to a permissions request for a work that was scholarly. Cite carefully, use footnotes or endnotes, and include a bibliography or works cited.

That goes for modern Bible translations. Do check that you really are using a public domain text, and cite it anyway.
 
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What AW Admin said.

Also make sure that your definition of "public domain" is accurate. I've seen so many people claim that things are "in the public domain" just because they're available online: that's obviously not true, and I'm sure you know that: but make sure you check this out too, just in case.
 

Jason

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Not entirely helpful with the question, but hammers the point home about citing sources:

I was teaching at a college in Michigan and one of the class requirements was a short paper (5 pages min, 12 pages max). The students were given 25 topics to choose from (no repeats), as well as a strong recommendation to get the MLA Handbook. A few examples were also shown in class of how to cite, reference, and footnote other content, as well as in a bibliography. We took an entire class to cover this.

I was teaching five sections of this class (about 30 students each section). Everyone but one person did it properly. That one person merely listed a bibliography of sources referenced. He earned an F on the paper. He was pissed! So pissed, in fact, that he went to my boss, and when he didn't budge, the kid went to the dean. At the end of the day, he was "upgraded" to a D- on the paper so he could get recognition for the work that he did, which I basically capitulated to in order to keep my job (I didn't have tenure or anything, was an adjunct at the time).

Never ever ever plagiarize, and always always always...cite and reference source material! Even though higher education (and book writing) is all about making money, it does not and should not, come at the expense of others intellectual property or copyrighted work.
 

cornflake

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Are you positive the Bible text is public domain, because most Bibles are copyrighted.
 

the bunny hugger

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It also differs considerably by type or work and publisher. While some people say certain practices are safe when they are not, I have also seen posts saying things are never allowed which I have personally done--in books that have been out now for over a decade with no problems.

IMHO with the manuscript err on the side of safety as much as possible, and once the publisher is selected get a complete style guide and follow up with the editor about any issues it does not cover.
 

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Thanks for responding everyone, but some of you seem to have misunderstood what I meant. Let me begin by saying that I'm not looking for legal advice, I just want to know how publishers will generally respond to various copyright situations. (For example, will many off-handedly reject a book because it uses public domain {pre-1923} sources, to avoid copyright issues they fear might exist?) The focus I wanted to achieve was not what the law says or means, but what publishers think. (So, rather than advice, I'm actually looking for experience: both from an author's perspective, and from the perspective of someone who has worked in a publishing company.) With that in mind, hopefully you will understand where I'm coming from in my brief responses below.

There is a lot of information and misinformation out there regarding fair use. I've seen incorrect information presented even here on AW. Your best bet is to consult with an intellectual property attorney, especially if you are self publishing. If you find an agent or a publisher, they should be able to help you with that (and make sure they are consulting their own attorneys and not going on someone's hunch!).

Thanks, this is good advice, Chris. Although, I should probably mention that I wasn't directly asking about fair use. I will definitely keep this in mind.

* Ask permission for quotations; academics do this all the time.
* Absolutely ask permission for block quotes or several quotes from the same work.
* Paraphrasing can be tricky, even it you fully cite.

Thanks, good to know the basics. (By the way, paraphrasing shouldn't be "tricky" if permission is granted for quotations and/or paraphrases, right?)

We can't offer legal advice; so no sticky.

(Please see initial response at the top.)

Honestly, though, I've never had a publisher request money or say no to a permissions request for a work that was scholarly. Cite carefully, use footnotes or endnotes, and include a bibliography or works cited.

Thanks! That's good to know (even though it's not exactly the kind of topic I had in mind for this thread).

Do check that you really are using a public domain text, and cite it anyway.

I always do my best to cite for quotes and other bits of sourced text/ideas. Thanks.

Also make sure that your definition of "public domain" is accurate. I've seen so many people claim that things are "in the public domain" just because they're available online: that's obviously not true, and I'm sure you know that: but make sure you check this out too, just in case.

As best as I understand it, public domain content is content that was published before 1923. That's the standard I use. (Although, I just did a search, and this page came up. http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm. I will probably just stick to the pre-1923 rule-of-thumb anyways though, personally.)

Never ever ever plagiarize, and always always always...cite and reference source material! Even though higher education (and book writing) is all about making money, it does not and should not, come at the expense of others intellectual property or copyrighted work.

Thanks CB. I agree!

Are you positive the Bible text is public domain, because most Bibles are copyrighted.

Yes. I'm positive. The initial author/main editor entered it into the public domain. That's the main reason it was created in the first place. (WEB, if you want to know.)

It also differs considerably by type or work and publisher. While some people say certain practices are safe when they are not, I have also seen posts saying things are never allowed which I have personally done--in books that have been out now for over a decade with no problems.

IMHO with the manuscript err on the side of safety as much as possible, and once the publisher is selected get a complete style guide and follow up with the editor about any issues it does not cover.

Thanks.
 
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