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Q: Copyrighted Material ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Copyrighted Material
Category: Business and Money
Asked by: copyguy-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 26 Oct 2006 08:15 PDT
Expires: 25 Nov 2006 07:15 PST
Question ID: 777118
I'm writing a non-fiction book.

In other books, there are true examples/brief stories that illustrate
certain ideas that I would like to use in my book.

Can I simply retell the example/story in my own words without
violating any legal or ethical rules?

My understanding is that it's ok if the story/example is purported to
be factual and you're retelling it in your own words.

Subject: Re: Copyrighted Material
Answered By: kriswrite-ga on 26 Oct 2006 09:21 PDT
Hello copyguy~

Facts cannot be copyrighted. However, the way in which those facts are
told *is* protected by copyright. In your  specific case, the best
thing to do would be to quote the original stories, giving credit to
the authors and books from which they originated.

In most cases, you won't have to obtain permission to do this, you can
just add a footnote giving credit where credit is due, or mention the
author and book title in your book's text. (For example: Joe Smith
describes this process in his book ABC: "[insert quote here].")

You should know, however, that if the quotes are long, or the book
they originated from is short, you may need to request permission from
the copyright holder. Please read the U.S. Copyright Office's "Fair
Use" information:

Although there are no set guidelines on just how much you can quote
without requesting permission from the copyright holder, a general
guideline is that if the quote is 10% or less of the original work, it
falls under fair use and you can use it without requesting permission.
("Fair Use Guidelines for Educational
Multimedia:" )

Another option is to paraphrase. In such a case, you'd need to
*completely* rewrite the story...and you should still give credit to
the author and book that inspired the paraphrase.

Kind regards,

Researcher's personal knowledge
search of U.S. Copyright Office website

Request for Answer Clarification by copyguy-ga on 27 Oct 2006 14:55 PDT
Kris, let me know if this is really a separate question, but what do I
need to do so I don't have to credit the original source? I don't
object to giving credit where credit is due, but it becomes tedious
for the reader.  And the book is 50 years old.

Basically, these are stories of people who used their imagination or
creativity to solve something -- from the inventor of the reaper and
other inventions to business innovations.  So it's not like I'm taking
someone's personal story and rephrasing it.  I'm taking a factual
story that he took and used and using it myself.  But I am kind of
retroactively researching the facts via his stories.

Clarification of Answer by kriswrite-ga on 27 Oct 2006 15:17 PDT
If you want to use a number of stories from one source, you can just
credit the book and author in your introduction or acknowledgment
page. However, I caution you that paraphrasing a number of these
stories from a single source may not be enough to put them in the
"fair use" category. One story, sure. But many? That's really
borderline and could get you into legal trouble.

Again, though, you can quote the book and either use footnotes to note
the source, or acknowledge the author/title somewhere else in the


Request for Answer Clarification by copyguy-ga on 27 Oct 2006 15:26 PDT
Acknowledging the book sounds like a good idea.

I think I understand you're saying that paraphrasing too many stories
may put me outside the fair use category.  How can that be, if it's ok
to retell facts in my own words?

If for some reason retelling too many facts can put me in technical
violation, can you give me an idea of how to tell what's too much? 
This is only a 12 page or so special report that's part of a program
on creativity.  In those 12 pages, maybe there would be at most 8
stories from the book, taking up maybe two pages of total text.


Clarification of Answer by kriswrite-ga on 28 Oct 2006 09:46 PDT
This is a gray area (as is most of "fair use"). 

But think about it. If you wrote a book or article containing stories
that you'd researched, and some other author came along and plucked a
lot of those stories out of your book or article (even if he retold
them in his own words), wouldn't you be miffed? I know I would think
the author wasn't being quite fair or honest. It's important to
acknowledge who did the original research.

You *can* paraphrase, and if you do it *well* and acknowledge the
original source, you should be fine.

As for how much you can borrow legally, please refer to my original
answer. 10% of less is generally considered okay to use without
permission. Eight pages out of a 12 page book or report definitely
goes beyond that.

I know this is not the answer you want to hear, but them's the facts :)

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