1. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    Quoting and Copyright Infringment

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TheSpiderJoe, Sep 22, 2011.

    After having a talk with my brother about the structure of my book, he raised an interesting question. On the beginning pages of this book (and ever subsequent book in the series thereafter) I'm going to open up with a quote from the bible as a subtle hint to the story's undertone. He then asked "can you use a direct quote from the bible in your story if you're going to sell it?" Sadly, I did not have a good answer for him. So I turn to you my Writing Forums friends for the answer.

    Also, I have one other thing to ask. In my book, I paid homage to one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. The character does not state the quote exactly but is still fairly close to the original. Would it be alright to use that quote as well or is that considered copyright infringement?

    Oh, before anyone asks, the quote I'm using comes from the 1994 film Street Fighter starring Jean Claude Van Damme (so it's fairly unknown but still memorable).
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    The Bible is fair game.

    The movie, I'm not so sure about. If you plan to copy it exactly, I think there might be a legal issue but I'm not sure. Steerpike is an attorney and would be a better person to ask about this. I think it's safe to make allusions to the quote, though.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the Bible is fair game in general, but recent translations and edits could be copyrightable. I don't know that this would matter for quotes of a modest length anyway, but if for some reason a writer wanted to use a lot of material from the Bible, it would probably be safest to get hold of an edition old enough to be safely out of copyright.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Mallory and ChickenFreak about the Bible. ChickenFreak's point about recent versions of translations is a good one. If you use a quote from The King James version, for example, then you are well within the public domain. Using quotes from a movie would be subject to a Fair Use analysis. That's a fact-specific analysis, rather than something where there is a hard rule to go by. If you're just having a character in your story paraphrase a line from a movie, I wouldn't worry about it. Most of the Fair Use factors are going to come down on your side.
     
  5. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not in the UK you're not -- the King James version of the Bible is still in copyright here (it's Crown copyright, so it follows different rules to normal copyright that are not covered by the same international treaties -- http://www.cambridge.org/bibles/rights/).
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    steerpike...
    the fair use exception does not apply to fiction as far as i know... only to reviews and critiques, for teaching, scholarly works, etc.... here's the letter of the law from the source:

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Fair Use can certainly apply to fiction. One important example where this is true is in the area of parody. The nature of the work the second author creates is only one of the factors. Any use in any type of work can potentially be a Fair Use. But some are much more likely than others to be found as Fair Use, or if not Fair Use than not infringing. In the case above, dealing with a one-line paraphrase within the story itself, I think the risk is minimal. If a publisher decides to take on this work, and they notice it, they'll make their own determination. There is a question here as to whether there is infringement even outside of Fair Use.

    But to answer the general question, yes Fair Use can apply to fiction, but it is less likely to be found there than in cases of a scholarly work. The Copyright Office, like the Patent and Trademark Office, is a good starting point for this information, but you won't get the whole picture from them, there's just too much law in the area.

    A work of fiction is generally going to be considered a commercial, for-profit use, and that will hurt chances of finding Fair Use. Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you're right about Fair Use, if you get sued by a copyright owner it can cost you a lot of money to prove that you're right.
     
  8. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    Dang... Now I'm a bit more confused (and slightly worried). For argument's sake, here is the original quote"

    "This is the collection agency Bison, your *** is six months overdue, and it's mine."

    Here is the quote featured in my novel:

    “Greetings Agent. I’m here on behalf the collection agency. Your life is six hours overdue... And it’s mine.”
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect that's a healthy view of copyright issues.
    I wouldn't have thought that would be a problem. But I am not a lawyer. And even if I am (which I'm not), I'm not your lawyer. ;)
     
  10. daydreams
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    daydreams Member

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    Take an old enough translation and it will not be copyrighted. (The best thing about copyright is that it eventually expires.) Otherwise of course you are still allowed to quote from it even if the translation itself is copyrighted.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It ain't necessarily so. As I've already pointed out, the King James version is still in copyright in the UK. The situation regarding Peter Pan is even more complicated (the copyright that never grew old?)

    Copyright law is a minefield, and anybody getting into that territory really needs professional legal advice (or, I suppose, no assets worth going after, which if you're a writer is probably more likely).
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that quote's far from verbatim, so copyright isn't an issue, as even our resident attorney will probably agree...

    that said, using verbatim lines from copyrighted work that have become a part of the public lexicon, such as 'make my day' or 'we'll always have paris' or 'frankly, my dear, i don't give a damn' isn't considered actionable, since they're easily recognizable as being from another's work and are thus 'paying homage' to a classic, more than anything else...
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's good info, digitig. I wasn't aware that the KJV received special treatment in the UK.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. As I said above, there is a real question here of whether there could be infringement in the first place. Copyright generally protects verbatim copying of a work, and doesn't even extend to independent creation. There is protection for 'derivative works' but I think that arguing that a paraphrase of a quote is somehow a derivative work of an underlying, protected work is a real stretch.
     

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