Thank you for your interesting question. Here are the basics you need to know.
WHAT COPYRIGHT COVERS:
?Copyright shelters only fixed, original and creative expression, not
the ideas or facts upon which the expression is based,? says
Stanford?s excellent website on copyright (
) This means that *ideas* are not copyrightable. In the case of a
book, only the specific telling of the story is covered by copyright:
The actual putting together of the words.
In addition, works that *comment upon* a book, movie, etc. are
considered a separate creative effort that falls under what?s called
?fair use.? Fair use means that you needn?t request permission from
the copyright holder in order to use part of--or base something
upon--the original copyrighted work. As Stanford states: ?If you are
commenting upon...a copyrighted work--for instance, writing a book
review -- fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work
to achieve your purposes.?
) Summarizing is within fair use, as is limited use of quotations.
What is considered ?limited use of quotations?? Well, that?s a
question the courts have yet to define clearly. Here are the factors a
judge would consider if you went to court:
* The purpose of your use. Has the ?borrowed? material been
transformed by what has been added to it? Was value added to the
original by offering new insights into the original work?
* The nature of the copyrighted work. More leeway is given for
non-fiction than for fiction, since facts aren?t copyrightable.
* The amount of the original work taken. The less taken, the more it
falls under ?fair use.? A handful of short quotes from a large book,
for example, would be acceptable, while copying a whole chapter may
* The effect of the use upon the potential market. Has the original
copyright holder been injured? Have they lost part of their market?
For more details about these four factors, please read ?Using the Four
Factor Fair Use Test:?
You might also try using the checklist provided at the Copyright
Management Center: http://www.copyright.iupui.edu/checklist.htm
Also, please note that summarizing without giving proper attribution
could be considered a copyright violation.
On the other hand, if the book has already fallen into public domain,
you are absolutely free to do whatever you wish with it. You can quote
it extensively, and even reprint the entire volume. For guidelines on
whether or not a book is in public domain (free of any copyright),
check out UNC?s website ?When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain:?
If you want to post a clarification, explaining the percentage of your
work that will be critique/comment, and how much will be actual
summarization or quotations, I can give you an opinion on whether or
not the idea falls into fair use. However, while I am knowledgeable
about copyright, I am not a lawyer, and my opinion should not be used
in a lawyer?s place.
Ultimately, if for any reason you are unsure whether your particular
project falls under fair use laws, you should consult a copyright
attorney. The attorney will need to know specifically how you plan to
handle the project: How many quotes (if any) you?ll use, in
particular, in addition to how much of each book will contain
commentary, critique, and/or educational questions.