A quick copyright question

Discussion in 'Writing' started by GarrickW, Feb 18, 2010.

  1. GarrickW

    GarrickW Aspiring Writer

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    Hey all, popping in from my extended leave of absence (girlfriend, university and book writing have been keeping me very busy, along with no more regular internet access). I was wondering whether I am allowed, legally or whatever, to explicitly name the real works and names of real, living authors in my novels, assuming I were to publish them. My main character is a bookworm, and as such it would seem silly to write the story without him ever interacting with books. I want my main character to find a book during his investigations, and I want to be able to say which book it is, so that I can give it some special significance, given its content and what happens in my own story.

    So am I allowed, for example, to write "Stephen picked the tattered book, brushing the dust off to reveal the words Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." in my book? Or any other book, for that matter? On the surface, I can't see why not, but my spider sense is telling me that there might be some crazy reason I can't do this with any book the author of which is still alive (or even was alive within the last 30 years or whatever it is). So what's the facts? I read that list of 10 myths about copyright explained, and it seemed to point in the direction that citing a title and perhaps an author's name is okay, but I'd like to be sure. Further, am I allowed to discuss (or have characters discuss) the contents of the book in question? What are the limits here?
     
  2. shevdon

    shevdon www.shevdon.com

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    There's nothing in copyright that prevents you citing a book, title or author, a TV series or any other reference. If that were the case then it would be impossible to cite references for academic works, which rely heavily on referenced work.

    However, you need to bear in mind that references like that are temporal and can date a story, depending how it's done. For instance, if you said that HP and the Philosophers Stone was newly released, that would put a time on your story.

    Does that help?
     
  3. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Finding the exact limit might be more of a legal issue than can be solved on a public board, but understanding the spirit of the law might help. In general, the characters of a work of a copyrighted work of fiction are the property of the copyright holder; therefore you should, in the use of the material, treat them as such. My daughter has been a professional editor for years (non fiction, though), and every time I ask her a copyright-related question, she replies, "Ask for permission," which is a task that has occupied a significant ratio of her time.

    The author's agent is usually the easiest one to approach with this issue, because the agent has the job of building buzz around the book. Give yourself plenty of time (meaning plenty of time) to get a reply, and don't be bashful about following up your inquiry.

    Your example of the Harry Potter stories is a perfect case in point. Naturally, Scholastic Books and J.K. Rowling should be delighted for the works to be mentioned as often and as broadly as possible. On the other hand, they are not likely to be delighted with all of the knock-off Harry Potter goods that are being sold with neither permission nor license. If you as a writer would be profiting from the use of Harry Potter, then good taste and the avoidance of hassle would suggest that you secure permission. An internet search would lead you directly to Rowling's agent, and an e-mail would probably bring an answer.

    Some authors, most notably the recently deceased J.D. Salinger, are known for saying "no" to almost everything; others, "yes." We humans are a strange lot.

    --WB
     
  4. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    I *believe* mentioning a book is okay, providing you don't tear it apart and don't use great chunks of it or actively use it to promote your book. However, I'm not an IP lawyer.

    This is the kind of thing an agent or an editor would pick up on if it wasn't okay, mind.