1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    3,119
    Likes Received:
    2,207

    Including a line from a famous poem

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by deadrats, May 12, 2019.

    I want to include a line from a famous poem in a prose piece. I give credit and it's a short line. I don't know if it makes a difference, but the poem is really old. However, it is quite appropriate for the piece I'm working on. Can I do this or how can I do this? My piece will be published. That's already lined up. I just don't want to make an amateur mistake or look stupid. Literary criticism obviously addresses these sort of issues. However, this sort of writing is a bit new for me, and I'm not sure where all the lines are. Don't want to cross the wrong ones. I know people often say you can't quote things without permission, but when it comes to literary criticism it seems the rules are quite different, no? Any and all thoughts about handling these sort of situations are much appreciated. Thanks.
     
  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    11,287
    Likes Received:
    12,961
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    if its more than 70 years since the death of the poet - possibly it depends on how the copyright was set up

    you also might argue that a single line from a long poem came under fair use
     
    Malisky likes this.
  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    3,119
    Likes Received:
    2,207
    Here's the thing... The rules seem sort of different for literary criticism and the likes. I'm not taking credit for something that's not mine. I am examining and expanding on a well-known and preexisting text. Does anyone have insight on this?
     
  4. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    11,287
    Likes Received:
    12,961
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    'for the purposes of criticism' is covered by fair use - however it is important to be clear that fair use is a defence to the charge of infringement, not a guarantee that a case won't be taken

    Paging @Steerpike for a more learned and complete version
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,865
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    California, US
    With respect to U.S. law...

    If the poem was published in the U.S. prior to 1924 it is in the public domain and you can do whatever you want with it.

    It if was published between 1924 and 1963 it may or may not be subject to copyright. It can be a pain in the ass to figure out whether it is, so it's often easier (and best practice) to assume that it is.

    If published after 1963 it is almost certainly covered by copyright.

    The rules aren't really different for literary criticism, it's just that literary criticism falls into one of the four factors for testing whether a use is a "fair use." That test is the "purpose and character" of your use. If you're using a copyright-protected work for literary criticism, that factors swings in your favor. Any "transformative" use swings heavily in your favor for this factor, and criticism may qualify. If you're using it merely as window dressing on a commercial work, that factor isn't going to help you much. But even if you're using it for purposes of criticism, you have to look at the other factors as well. If they all go against you, you might lose even if you're using something for the purpose of criticism. The other factors are:

    • the nature of the copyrighted work itself. Are you quoting from a work of fiction, for example, or from someone's autobiography in a piece you're writing about them.
    • the amount of the work you're taking, and how substantial it is. If you're quoting an entire poem, you're worse off than if you're just quoting one line, for example. Even if you're only copying a small bit, if it's so significant that it really goes to the heart of the work you're copying then this factor can still work against you. This latter point is probably something more likely to come up in relation to music than writing.
    • the effect of your use on the market for the original work. If the way you are using a work will tend to negatively affect the copyright owner's ability to sell his or her work, this factor works against you.
    A court looking at a fair use analysis will look at all the factors, though they may give strong weight to some and little to others. In recent years, whether the work is transformative became quite important, though it looks like courts may be backing off that a bit.

    Also, as @big soft moose says, "fair use" is a defense to copyright infringement. It can't stop someone filing a lawsuit against you, though in theory when they go to see an attorney about a lawsuit the attorney should be taking a fair use defense into account when advising them.

    You say this is lined up for publication. The market may already have guidelines or policies on how to handle this sort of thing.
     
    TheThinkerDeath and Matt E like this.
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,865
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    California, US
    In the U.S. and U.K. you can't assume something is in the public domain because the author is dead. Copyright term extends well past the death.
     
    Ma'am, jannert and Alan Aspie like this.
  7. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2016
    Messages:
    1,140
    Likes Received:
    1,055
    Thankfully, the vast majority of them aren't worth quoting anyways.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    12,553
    Likes Received:
    14,203
    Location:
    Scotland
    Here are two links that may be of help. Jane Friedman's article deals directly with quoting stuff from other authors. She includes many links to other sources of information. (She also makes it clear that quoting poems and songs is a very grey area.) Each country has its own set of copyright laws as well, which makes things even greyer.

    https://www.janefriedman.com/permissions-and-fair-use/


    This link regards copyright in the USA.

    https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html

    It can be a mistake to assume that it's 'okay' if the author is dead. Big mistake, if the copyright is still in force. @Steerpike is correct. It takes a good long while for something to enter 'the public domain.'
     
    Alan Aspie likes this.
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    3,119
    Likes Received:
    2,207
    The way I've done it seems to be okay with my publisher. Literary criticism in't my area of specialty, but obviously writing about a piece of writing can easily blur the lines, I believe. Boss loves it and knows his sh!t. I honestly don't know how you would address literary criticism of any sorts without such an approach. This is very different than fiction or for other reasons such works could be quoted. It is at the center of the piece. Important. And I guess this is where a writer needs to put some trust in a publisher. My publisher is well established and knows the game. I really wasn't sure how this would be perceived, but I think I'm on the right track with this. I mean doesn't almost all if not all literary criticism rely on this sort of stuff. Again, these are very different circumstances than using quotes like this in a work of fiction. If anyone is interested in learning more about this, I'm willing to share more about my experience with this as things move forward.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,865
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    California, US
    There are no special rules for literary criticism (at least in the U.S.). The Fair Use factors are the same. In fact, the U.S. Copyright Act specifically calls out criticism as an example of where Fair Use may apply and where those factors should be considered. The point with literary criticism is that you already have at least one Fair Use factor heavily in your favor. As long as quoting the work is supported by the criticism/analysis and the amount being taken is reasonable in terms of what is necessary to make the criticism, the Fair Use argument is going to be strong.
     
    deadrats likes this.
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    3,119
    Likes Received:
    2,207
    All literary criticism quotes famous works, doesn't it?
     
  12. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    5,904
    Likes Received:
    7,873
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    Happy any ways, 'slong as we're not debating some 'In the end I made my decision after 5000 words "and I, I took the one less traveled by,' the end," END ending.
     
    deadrats likes this.
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,865
    Likes Received:
    7,329
    Location:
    California, US
    I would think so. Or at least, works of some author (famous or otherwise).
     
    deadrats likes this.

Share This Page