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Laura B.

Librarian with some copyright experience here. Marcus is more or less on the right track (although obviously IANAL and cannot give legal advice).

The reader should *definitely* reach out to their local scholarly communication or research librarians for help with this -- it's part of the job to help with questions of this kind, and the librarians will also probably be able to point the reader to the right places to go to get any permissions that are necessary (and may often assist them to do so -- depends on the library).

Most quotations of reasonable length are covered by fair use and do not absolutely require permission, although there are no firm amount calculation rules encoded in legislation or case law, only a four-factor test that the courts apply and a variety of institutional norms used to facilitate compliance (if you ever see someone saying "you can only use x% of a work", that's an institutional norm, not the law as written). See Rich Stim's post at Stanford on this subject for a helpful discussion of how it works that also addresses some of Marcus' comments above re: attribution: https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/four-factors/. This test is also applied to images, lyrics, code, etc.

Publishers tend to err on the side of caution with regard to that test and try to get or require authors to establish they've gotten rights even when they might not really need to. Why? Because it's cheaper and easier to get permissions than it is to deal with being sued for infringement in a legal environment in which there is no guarantee that the courts will weight those four factors the same way the publisher or author would when Fair Use is asserted as a defense. It will be interesting, long term, to see how the new copyright small claims board process will affect publisher attitudes and priorities when it comes to this sort of thing (the CASE Act).

Anyway: Ask your librarians for help. Also, ask your publisher or look at their author info to see what they expect where rights are concerned (that is, what their institutional norms are). The tricky cases often involve images and lyrics (music licensing in particular is a hot *bleep*ing mess under current copyright law) and "orphan" works that may or may not still be in copyright for which ownership is difficult or impossible to establish.

a book lover

Laura B.
Thank you! Once again proving that Librarians are some of the best people on earth.

Helen De Cruz

To my knowledge, quoting song lyrics is also tricky. I once tried to put some in, and if they're not 100 years old, then you need to request copyright permission even if it's just a line or two. In any case, I don't know the finer details but I was advised by the publisher it was too much of a hassle and I just removed them.


I can verify that. I know an editor who received permission to reprint (without charge) a lecture of a well-known 20th century philosopher in his anthology, but then he had to spend months of time, enormous effort, and $350 to receive permission to print the two lines of a song cited in it. And I hear using poetry is much the same in terms of effort and expense, even when citing just a line or two. I have to wonder at the logic of such laws which think that money is of more lasting value for the artist's estate than the author's ongoing place as a voice for our cultural and intellectual tradition. Because given the choice between paying $350 or dropping the poetry/lyrics, I think most of us are going to choose the latter. It makes me wonder about the future of our poetic heritage.

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