Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 10 of 11)

How much can you quote without getting permission? That's the question that doesn't have a strict answer. This is the area we call "fair use" and it can get extremely complicated.

One source says quoting fewer than fifty words from an article or 300 from a book. "You'll need the copyright holder's permission to use any longer quotation from an article or a book."[1]

The same book says about online sources, "There is less consensus about fair use. . . To play it safe, seek permission for any text quotation that represents more than a small portion of the whole.”[2]

This is too complicated for a blog, and fair use isn't a settled issue. When I was in graduate school, we were told we could use 500 words without permission. (Note above they say 300.)

If you're not sure, read the copyright page of the book from which you cite. Unless it's self-published, you will see how much you may quote.

[1] The Little, Brown Handbook, eighth Edition, by H. Ramsey Fowler, and Jane E. Aaron, (Boston: Little, Brown, 2001) p 691

[2] ibid

* * * * *
Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will take place January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com. 


  1. Cec, are there special restrictions for quoting lyrics of a song? If I quote the lyrics of a current song, "Holy Spirit," and give credit to those who wrote it, can I use it in a manuscript?

  2. Poem and music are special. Unless the music or poem is in the public domain, you're legally required to ask the publisher for permission. And from my own experience, I can tell you that it's expensive.

  3. Okay. How long after a composer's death does a song typically become public domain?

  4. The copyright law of 1978, says a copyright is in effect for the author's lifetime plus 70 years.

    The older copyright law was 28 years plus a renewal for the another 28 years. So anything published more than 56 years before 1978 is in the public domain. That says anything before 1922.

  5. Wow! That's remarkable. A lot of songs have been written in the last 92 years. Thank you, Cec. I learn so many practical tips from you about writing. Your posts have helped me grow as a writer more than any other, hands down! You rock!

  6. Lynn is obviously extremely bright and sensitive.


What are your thoughts?