The pen is mightier than the sword.
—Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy
If you’d like to cut straight to the chase, I’ve finally explicated the text in its entirety of section 107 of US copyright law, the section disputed by (mostly self-publishing) plagiarists.
However, if you’d like to read more about how this pertains to you personally as a writer, please feel free to read on!
Folks—I’m reluctantly breaking into my regularly-scheduled posts due to an alarming experience my publisher and I had yesterday: we discovered my work quoted in more than one self-published book without our permission.
People. Read copyright law. I own the copyright on everything I write.
Everything you write is copyrighted automatically when you write it, writers. You don’t even have to post a copyright symbol.
Just so you know.
Everything on A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, Victoria Mixon, Editor & Author, and Victoria’s Advice Column is copyrighted. Everything I’ve written as guest posts is copyrighted. And everything in my books is copyrighted.
Because I’ve written it all, now, haven’t I?
, . .to post more than a few lines or to publish anything at all from any of my work without my express written permission. (From me.) Not even just chunks of posts. Not even guest posts I’ve written for other people’s blogs. (I grant those people First North American Rights to post my work in full, but my copyright remains mine.)
Frankly, I’m pretty easy-going about letting you use my work if you just ask permission. I most recently granted permission to Lori L. Lake to quote me in a book of exercises she’s putting together for her class on fiction. She asked nicely, and she even had the foresight to send me incredibly kind fan mail about my own books two years earlier.
Here’s my email—drop me a line!
There is a tiny little bit of wiggle room in copyright law, and there’s a good reason for this:
1) It’s okay to. . .
. . .re-post a sentence or two or even a brief paragraph or two of copyrighted material in a periodical without permission so long as:
it’s not the most valuable material in the piece, and
you’re not undermining the commercial value of it to the author, and/or
you’re quoting it for “review purposes”
You can even express a negative opinion on it if it’s a review, as this loophole was originally designed to allow periodical book reviewers to spread the love without getting entangled in red tape. It works exactly the same way on the Internet so long as you cite it properly and include a link to the author’s site.
A periodical is a publication that regularly puts itself out-of-date by issuing new editions, i.e. newspapers, magazines, etc. They’re periodic. That’s why they’re called ‘periodicals.’
Although there are not as yet any legal precedents I know of, blogs are considered periodicals.
If you use more than a few lines or a brief paragraph or two, you don’t include the citation and link, or you try to make money off it without permission, of course it’s plagiarism—the very worst type of copyright violation—and you’ll get a DMCA Take-Down Notice or Cease & Desist Letter and possibly your ass sued by the rightful owner of the copyright.
Personally, I like to know if you’re referring to my work so I can keep track of what’s out there. But it’s okay, either way, so long as you cite it properly as coming from me and include a link to https://victoriamixon.com.
This wiggle room does not apply to your published works that are not periodicals
This means if you want to quote someone else in your book or novel, you or your publisher must get their express written permission.
Read this carefully, people: express written permission.
You can’t just pick up quotes from other published works—including periodicals, like blogs—and put them into books that you then put up for sale. This is attempting to copyright for yourself and make money off someone else’s copyrighted works. . .without their permission.
Now you can see why, in any professionally published book that uses quotes, you’ll find a list of attributions in the front matter specifying that these quotes “are reprinted by permission of [the publisher/author].”
It is also interfering with the author’s own copyright of their work. If they choose to publish their work at some later date, you’ve created a situation in which you can give the US Copyright Office headaches over which of you owns the work. This is so unfair to the true author that it’s not even real. And it creates the serious potential for loss of income for them. This is why:
(Remember: thou shalt not steal, you Christian authors)
. . .for loss of income, impinging upon the reputation of a professional author, and even punitive damages, at the discretion of a judge, if you are a repeat-offender. This means YOU, people cobbling together ‘your’ books on writing from the works of others. That’s “repeating” your “offense.”
Are the legal fees and huge fines going to be worth it to you?
They can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Plus, you lose both your book and your reputation. Anybody who has to tangle with the US Copyright Office just in order to clarify that they own the copyright to their own words is going to make sure that everybody in your community knows what a crappy thing you’ve done. For crying out loud.
Do you think other writers and bloggers can’t afford to sue you? The National Writer’s Union has lawyers available—either free or wildly-inexpensive—for this express purpose: protecting authors’ copyright. I have used them before, and I’m happy to use them again.
Also, Amazon and other online booksellers will simply block your book if it’s reported in violation of DMCA, even if it’s just a little partial violation like quoting a few measly paragraphs of one author’s work. My publisher is a really polite person. He’ll send you a friendly email first. But if you do not respond in a timely manner, he will request that your book be blocked. And the booksellers will cooperate. They want no truck with this crap.
Even epigrams are protected under copyright law. Many authors—especially famous ones—charge for epigrams, because they and their publishers have a huge vested professional interest in making sure their works are not re-used by random authors latching onto their coattails. This has to do with aspects of copyright law that determine the value of the quoted material compared to the value of the book or novel in which it is quoted.
So do yourself a favor: don’t force any quoted author—or copyright judge—to go there. They can not only block your book and sue your ass, but also hurt your feelings really badly.
If you’ve posted more than a few lines or published any of my work at all from anywhere without my express written permission—from my blog, someone else’s blog, my books, etc—please do us both a favor and REMOVE IT NOW. Otherwise, my publisher will have to send you a DMCA Take-Down Notice, and you and I both have better things to do.
Or better yet: just ask permission first.
I know there’s a blogger out there whose entire blog is composed of his ‘thoughts,’ which are not his thoughts at all, but posts lifted without permission from other blogs. If you courteously request that he follow normal “fair use” of using only a few lines or a brief paragraph or two with citation and a link, he replies with an email full of faux-legal gobbly-gook about “fair use,” meant to intimidate you into submission. It happened to me. My publisher and I were not intimidated. That blogger was required by law to follow normal “fair use” or take my post down. He threw a hissy-fit, but he took it down. He’s a lawyer. He knew he could be sued.
However, other bloggers might cower and let him to get away with it, while his readers naturally assume that he has politely asked those authors’ permission. Don’t be fooled by him, you guys—if you read his faux-legal email carefully you’ll see that legally he is forced to say “he thinks” this is “fair use.” He can’t claim that it is. . .because he knows it’s not.
Also, some major publishers, like Writer’s Digest, use excerpts in their books without jumping through all the loopholes, because they have license to the copyrights of the quoted authors. This means they are those authors’ publishers. And this is why an ex-publisher of one such company some years ago erroneously gave permission to numerous commenters to plagiarize authors through quotes—because she didn’t understand the full legality of what she as a publisher had done.
That’s not you.
It’s not me either.
My publisher, Prentice Hall, acquired permissions for the quotes and paid for the cartoons used in my book Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators.
And I ask express written permission from my clients and querents for all testimonials, quotes, and even submitted questions on my blog and advice column, including the webpages in my sidebar that I post for clients.
Think about it.
It’s only common courtesy.
3) Links are all goodness
I link to you guys, too. The Internet is one big ole snuggly interconnected network. Every time you link appropriately to someone else’s blog, you’re making a friend. Friends are goodness.
Just remember, everyone: copyright protects you as well as the authors you love. These laws apply to your own works, keeping the world of written words fair for everyone.
It’s not a profession if you don’t get paid for your work.
And writers are professionals.
Besides, no one wants to get whacked upside the head with something even mightier than a sword.
See if you can identify the snippet of US copyright law used by violators to justify plagiarism. (Hint: it’s not that easy to misunderstand if you read the entire thing and actually comprehend the words.)