Thursday, May 11, 2006


January 3

I know that when you quote direct from someone else's work, copyright permission needs to be obtained in writing. Since there are only a few instances where I do this in my book, this has not presented me with a major problem. I am currently in the process of obtaining and waiting for these permissions to come through.

What I am less clear on is whether you also need permission, or at least clearance from the publishers of works that you paraphrase or use for reference material. I have checked on the Internet, and different sites say different things, hence the confusion. If you do need permission to paraphrase then this is going to leave me with a potential problem, since I have used various bits and bobs from well over 100 other sources. How on earth will I begin to wade through that lot, especially if they need to see the bits I have written. Help!!

In the end I decided to post on a few writers forums asking for advice. It seems that you can quote verbatim up to around 200 - 300 words without needing permission. Any more than that, especially with music, and you will need written permission from the copyright holder. That bit is fine, since there is not much that I do quote verbatim. Mostly it is quotes from Babylon 5. That is all in hand, and I am waiting for Warner Bros in California to get back to me, hoping and praying that they will not charge a hefty fee.

Paraphrasing and summarizing is generally fine as long as you credit the source (which it goes without saying I have) and it is largely in your own words (which in my case it also is). There are whole chapters where I utilise just one or two others works as reference material, paraphrased in my own words, with various bits added based on my own ideas and interpretations. Basically, my interpretation of their words, re-written in my particular style.

Sometimes it is best not to bother contacting publishers, since they will land you with hefty fees, whereas if left alone, they would probably not have heard of your book. Checking book covers in my own library, very few permissions are written inside, so I can surmise that most authors do not bother to do this. All in all this is a huge relief, since it will save me a fortune in time, stamps, letters and phone calls.

Just to make sure, I also checked in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, which says:

"There is no copyright in ideas or information. In general, anyone may use published ideas and facts provided they do not copy the precise wording in which they are expressed. But be careful, it is an infringement of copyright to rely on someone else's 'skill and labour' in creating a work. The second writer is expected to check all the facts at their original source".

What this seems to be saying is that it is the words that are copyrighted rather than the ideas. Re-writing in your words is then fine, provided you acknowledge the source. If one book says for example "apples are red" then you cannot just take their word for it, but have to go back to the source that they got this information from, tracking it to its source, to make sure that the information is accurate. This as far as possible I have done.

As a safeguard I decided to ring the Society of Authors since the stuff in the Artists and Writers Yearbook was written by them. I spoke to a nice lady called Lisa Dowdeswell, who seemed to think that I was fine, and would not need written permission, agreeing pretty much with what I have already been told.

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