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Q: General Guidelines about Fair Use/Copyright as related to dictionaries. . . ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: General Guidelines about Fair Use/Copyright as related to dictionaries. . .
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: fieldlily-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 21 Jun 2006 18:06 PDT
Expires: 21 Jul 2006 18:06 PDT
Question ID: 740072
Here's the issue.

I am self-publishing a vocabulary guide for the under-15 set. It
includes 1250 vocabulary words, plus definitions that I wrote.

I'd like to add some notes about pronunication and etymology.

This isn't something I can research independently on the basis of
primary sources, of course, at least not with my budget. I'd like to
just take the etymology and pronunication (word-for-word) from the American
Heritage dictionary website, and just identify the American Heritage
dictionary as the source.

Is this legitimate fair use?

One more thing: what if I wanted to use the quotes that they include
as part of their definitions? (This may be pushing the limit a bit.)
If I were to cite the dictionary as well as the original source of the
quotations, could I include those quotations, or does that become

I am betting that using the sentences is pushing the limit a little
bit, perhaps, just because it's so many words. So my biggest question
is whether or not I can simply copy the American Heritage
pronunciation and etymology for 1250 separate terms, as long as I give
credit where credit is due.

A truly outstanding answer would provide some general guidelines about
the legal/copyright issues involved in this specific situation.

Subject: Re: General Guidelines about Fair Use/Copyright as related to dictionaries. . .
Answered By: webadept-ga on 23 Jun 2006 11:24 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

The U.S. Copyright Office has a very good page for describing the
basics of what is, and is not available for Copyright

That link will take you to the section of one of the pages which
describes what is "Not" available for copyright, and the etymology
section of a dictionary could fall under this rule set.

The Terms of Use page of the dictionary online however says that you
can't use anything without their express permission.

Instead of trying to walk the tight-rope here and hoping to dodge a
law-suit or go un-noticed, I would suggest using a public domain
source. There are dictionary versions which are now in the public
domain, which you can use, and are available on the Internet.

For example, The Gutenberg Project has the Webster's Dictionary

And of course there is the Wiktionary Project

The content of Wiktionary is covered by the GNU Free Documentation
License; And you can see a copy of their copyright license on this

Both of these would be a much safer source, and citing these in your
booklet would keep anyone from the question of whether or not to send
their lawyers after you.

As far as the phrases you were talking about, ... yeah... that is
pushing it, as those phrases were created by someone for examples, and
copying them directly would be a copyright violation. They don't fall
anywhere near the list of things which would not be copyright
protected material.

When you are looking at the etymology of a word, you are looking at
something that has been in public domain for several decades. The
etymology phrase could be seen as "public knowledge" and it is also
something that hasn't changed. Descriptive phrases are definitely
something that falls under the category of creative design. A good
example is the books for Dummy's (Computer's for Dummies, Cooking for
Dummies). These books don't provide information which can not be
obtained from several other sources, but they do provide an original
means of description for the information. The usage phrases are
exactly that sort of thing, and took a professional writer time and
effort to come up with, and add value to the dictionary they are on
(or take away from value if they are not effective for the reader).

Copyright laws are based on the idea of value, and what effects value
of a body of work. Hundreds of papers can be written on the same
subject, all of then producing the same set of facts, but the value of
the papers come from the various means of description (or confusion as
the case may be).

For more information on the Copyright Laws you can see the Wikipedia page at:


fieldlily-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Hi webadept-ga,

Thanks for an excellent answer.

When I asked about the quotes, I was under the
impression--mistakenly--that the American Heritage dictionary
sometimes included third-party quotes as part of the definition. Those
were the quotes I was wondering about using--for instance, if the
dictionary used a Charles Dickens quote to illustrate the use of the
word "vissicitude," could I also use the Charles Dickens quote? But in
any case I was mistaken about American Heritage including these
sentences, so that part of the question was misleading.

I appreciate your going above and beyond the parameters of the
question, especially to provide public domain sites. Thank you!


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