The Pennsylvania State University

Copyright Issues for Authors


General information since you as author guarantee in your contract with the Press that you will not use copyrighted materials without permission, a manuscript received in final form for publication is assumed to be cleared for use of all material from other sources, with written permission and payment of any necessary fees.

However, use of short quotations in scholarly books for accurate citation of authority or for criticism, review, or evaluation is regarded by law as "fair use," and obtaining permission for such use is not necessary. Authors should therefore save themselves and publishers needless correspondence by trying to ascertain if their use of copyrighted material comes under the category of "fair use." There are four factors that Section 107 of the Copyright Act specifies as determining whether any given use is "fair" or not: (1) "the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes" (that the Press is a nonprofit publisher helps here, but if you receive a royalty on sales, then that can weigh against a finding of "fair use"); (2) "the nature of the copyrighted work" (use of "expressive" material like fiction or poetry is less likely to be "fair" than use of material that is more "factual" in nature); (3) "the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole" (important here is not only the "amount" used in relation to what is considered to be the "whole" work, but also the significance or "substantiality" of the material used, even if relatively short, if it contains the core or heart of the work's substance); and (4) "the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work" (here it is not only direct competition with the original work as published that is of concern, but also the potential market for licensing use of parts of the original work). Another key point to bear in mind, also highlighted in Section 107, is whether ot not the work used is "unpublished"; "fair use" applies to unpublished materials, but in a much more restricted way than for published works. If in doubt about how to conduct this four-factor analysis for materials you want to reproduce in your book from copyrighted sources, consult the editor of your book before writing the copyright owner. The one category of work that can be used freely in any amount by a U.S. author is any work of the U.S. Government (but not necessarily the work of foreign governments).

Whether a work is still protected by copyright or is "in the public domain" (and hence free to use without permission) is governed by a complex set of laws that have come into effect from the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act on to the recent past, when at the very end of 1998 a new law extended the duration of copyright protection for another twenty years. This chart conveniently summarizes the rules now determining what is, or is not, protected by copyright. If you have any trouble applying these rules to any given materials you want to reproduce in your book, please consult your editor.

Even when permission is not required, it is a matter of courtesy to the original source and a convenience to the reader of your book to give a full citation indicating the source of the quoted material.

When Permission is Required

(1) When you reproduce a complete unit, whether it be a poem, letter, short story, article, complete chapter or section of a book, map, chart, or other illustrative material. In the case of poetry, permission is required to reprint more than one line of a short poem which is still under copyright, or any words or music of a popular song.

(2) When material is quoted for its own sake no matter what the length, as in an anthology of readings. The publisher of the material quoted in this instance especially is justified in requiring a fee. For this reason, when writing the publisher for permission, you should give the exact location of the material requested and a rough estimate of the number of words.

(3) When quoting from your own work previously published in copyrighted magazines or journals (or any other serial publication or collective work) but, for works published after January 1, 1978, only if you have signed a written agreement transferring copyright to the publisher (for otherwise the copyright remains in your possession and permission is not needed.)

(4) When making arrangements for publication of a chapter or section of your manuscript in a scholarly journal, after acceptance of your work for publication here. In this case you should clear your plan with your editor, who will advise you on what you need to do in order to keep the status of copyright ownership clear.

Please be sure, whenever you seek permission, to request "nonexclusive world rights in the English language" and if a publisher cannot give you world rights, ask for information about other organizations that control the rights in other parts of the world, particularly the British Commonwealth.

Permission need not be obtained for material that is not a direct quotation, but material paraphrased or summarized from another source should of course be clearly indicated as such (that is, it should be kept clearly demarcated from the author's own statements and credited to the original source). For an unusually extensive summary, paraphrase, or digest, especially if used for its own sake and not merely for criticism or illustration, the permission of the original publisher is required.

Additional Information

VRA Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, Fair Use

Christine Sundt (University of Oregon) Copyright & Art Issues

Georgia Harper (University of Texas) Copyright and Image Management

The Association of American University Presses has a useful FAQ on copyright