October 15, 2012

A Writer's Life - Mention or Invention? Part I

There are a lot of things to consider when writing and plotting your next novel. Quite often this also includes such things as quotes from other books or using brand names. In the next three weeks I will deal with stuff like copyright, brand names, and fan fiction. I'm certainly no expert on this, but I do know a few things which every writer should also be aware of as not to risk coming face to face with a lawyer.

A quote is just a quote, or is it? You might think that there's no harm done if you include a citation, but, I'm sorry to say, this just doesn't cut it. The most important question you need to ask yourself is whether the book is already in the public domain or not. If so, feel free to use your favorite Jane Austen line in your own novel. If not, there is no way around contacting the owner holding the right for the book from which you want to quote. You must be aware that using a quote and mentioning where you got it from is not enough.

Isn't there something called fair use? Why yes, there is. If you're a book blogger and use quotes in your reviews that falls under fair use. And, oddly enough, if you write a parody on something that's considered fair use as well.

What about quotes from movies or songs? Oh boy, now things get really ugly. In short, be creative enough not to snag your favorite dialogue from a movie or let your heroine sing that latest Top Ten hit. You can be literally sued down to your underwear if you don't have the permission to use those lines. Of course, if you don't want to write your own song and insist on using parts of Lady Gaga's Pokerface you may obtain the right to use it. Be warned though, this could cost you quite a bit (of both nerves and money).

If all else fails. So you don't want to get into the whole copyright and fair use quarrel? Perfectly understandable. Why not write your own quotes then? Those of you who've read Dean Koontz novels might remember how he often opens chapters with quotes from The Book of Counted Sorrows. Well, there is no such book, but Dean simply made it up, along with all the quotes he's repeatedly using.

It goes without saying (but I shall do so anyway), but when in doubt, look it up! Don't assume because someone else uses a certain quote in their book, that you can do the same. Either they are totally clueless and did it wrong themselves, or they simply have a permission from eg a publishing house to use a certain quote. Their right to use the quote doesn't translate into everyone else having the same right!

Here's a real good site which answers questions concerning copyright and fair use.

Please note that I've approached this topic to the best of my knowledge. If you find that I misinterpreted anything or even stated something that is entirely wrong (I hope not), let me know so I can remove or amend the offending statement!

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