Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Legalities

“But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal / copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? A meme you saw (after fact checking I hope)?

Brenda Chapman here.

This week's question brings up an important issue that I wasn't aware of when I started writing. Many times, I've wanted to use a song lyric in my story, or a quote at the start of the book to emphasize a theme or to enhance a passage. I discovered early on, however, that using more than six words (or is it nine) from someone else's work cannot be done without permission and likely reimbursement to the creator or the work. I recall another author telling me they'd paid $250.00 to use a song lyric, having contacted the composer and settling on this price.

The reason the rule is in place is to protect every writer's work so that it cannot be copied or used without permission while they're alive and for fifty years (I could be wrong on the exact length of time) after their death, something I've come to appreciate. Writers, composers and other creators should be fairly compensated, but too often we are not. 

I used to think though, that using a line of song or a line from a book would help to promote that song or composer or writer as long as they were given credit. While I still think this is true, I also respect the need to pay for the use of someone else's work.

The only advice I've gotten thus far on copyright has come from my publisher and editor as well as other authors. To date I haven't used public or historical figures in my work except for a passing reference, such as, he has 'Mick Jagger lips' or something similar. I'm quite certain this doesn't need the legal department's approval.

I use quotes at the start of my books in line with the theme, but only select from authors long, long gone - Shakespeare, for example. Work now considered in the pubic domaine.

I would add an annoying and downright illegal activity taking place amongst the unscrupulous, who copy an entire book and put it up for 'free' on the internet. The reasons include getting somebody's credit card information (they usually charge a small 'fee') or infecting their computer with malware, so readers are well advised not to click on these sites and to pay for their books from reputable sellers. 

Speaking of legitimate booksellers, here's a terrific review by a local paper for my latest release, Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery, available around the world on Amazon.


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