There may be places in your manuscript where you quote from a previously published work. If you’re quoting a substantial portion of the original material, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder (and you may have to pay a fee). Otherwise, you could end up scrambling for a replacement quote—or worse, be forced to do a rewrite—if the copyright holder turns down your request.
What requires permission to reprint?
Not absolutely everything you quote requires permission, only the substantial quotations. What constitutes “substantial”? If it’s a 20-word quotation from a 40-word poem, that’s substantial; if it’s a 20-word quotation of a 350-page book, not so much. But it’s not only about the length of the quoted material. (Under American law, you can claim that quoting anything fewer than a certain number of words is “fair use”; the fair use exemption to copyright law doesn’t exist in Canada.)
In addition to text permissions, consider every illustration and photograph you want to use to determine whether you require permission from the copyright holder to reproduce it in the book. Be careful when researching images on the Internet, especially content from Instagram, Pinterest, or other social media sites. Creative Commons licences are often for non-commercial use unless the licence specifically states “no rights reserved.”
Steps for requesting permission
- Confirm the holder of the copyright. (This may be the copyright owner or a person or agency to whom the rights have been legitimately transferred: for instance, the publisher, a lawyer, an agent, or an heir. For books, the copyright holder is almost always the publisher.)
- Send a written request to the copyright holder. Include the information from the checklist below. Some publishers have an online or printed form that you must fill out and submit.
- Pay any fees requested. (If the fee is not acceptable to you, or if you can’t get in touch with the copyright holder, you may need to cut the quotation/illustration or rewrite the passage to avoid copyright infringement.)
- Receive confirmation of permission and note the required credit line. (For example, “the quotation on page 220 is from the song Substitute by Pete Townshend, The Who, from the album Meaty, Beaty and Bouncy, published by DEVON MUSIC INC. Reprinted by permission.”)
- Keep a copy of the full written permission, as well as documentation of any telephone calls, meetings, etc., related to the permission requests. You never know when you might need to check your records!
Permission request checklist
In your request, be sure to include the following information about the work to be reproduced:
- title (and title of source, if the work was not published on its own)
- author and creator (of work and source work, if applicable)
- copyright notice
- other facts of publication, if applicable
- number of pages, word count, or other indication of extent or dimensions of the material you wish to reproduce; attach a photocopy if possible
- any proposed alterations (also attach to request) (This would include abbreviating a quotation of text. Show the edited version you wish to use.)
Here’s what you should include about the forthcoming new work:
- author, editor, or creator (i.e. your name)
- publisher and publication date
- number of pages, print run, and price (or other indications of your intended use of the work and what benefit, if any, you will derive from that use.)
- current or future editions (mention the print edition and ebook)
- language(s) and territories in which the work will be published or distributed
Tracking permission requests
It’s a good idea to keep a detailed permissions log. An ideal log will contain the following information: description of the asset/quotation; asset number/page number; source; credit line; rights granted; fee; any other contractual obligations such as complimentary copies; status (when the letter was sent, replies received, etc.).
Seeking permission can be a complicated process, but it’s a necessary endeavour if you choose to incorporate existing material into your book. At best, you expend some time and energy doing your due diligence and at worst, you end up having to excise the excerpt altogether. When it comes to potential infringement, better to be safe than sorry!
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