Up the writing learning curve 2 – Copyright -quoting from another’s work

This is the second in my Up the writing learning curve blog posts. You can find the first on the need for a trusted reader here.

I wrote a small piece for the village magazine last year and in that piece I quoted a well known author – something he had said illustrated what I was trying to say perfectly. I sent my draft to the editor of the magazine certain that the use of this quotation was bound to make me look erudite. To my amazement, it was this innocuous quote that gave the editor pause before publishing my piece.

Until that day I didn’t know much about copyright. So I started to look into it.

The English law on copyright starts from the position (as does the law of many jurisdictions) that the creator of the work has the right to control how that work is used. This means that you cannot use the copyrighted work of another person except in certain permitted circumstances. Clearly, where the copyright owner has given you permission to use their work you may do so. You would also be able to use copyrighted work where you had obtained a licence to use it – there are a number of licensing agencies such as the Copyright Licensing Agency which provide licences and collect royalties for copyright owners. English law also allows you to use copyrighted work where the circumstances of that use constitute fair dealing.

Fair dealing includes (among other things) teaching the work, criticising the work, reviewing the work, using it in private study and research and parodying it. Each of the permitted uses under fair dealing are quite restricted and certain factors must be present in order for you to be sure you have fallen within one of them. For example, the author and source of the work must usually be acknowledged.

Applying my new knowledge to my proposed article I realised that simply using someone else’s work to illustrate what I wanted to say may not be considered fair use as I could say what I wanted to say without using the quote. So, as I wasn’t going to ask the owner of the work for consent to use the quote, the quote went, the editor was happy and my article was published.

On a related point, it was interesting to find out that using a quote in this way under certain of the laws of the USA may be likely to be considered de minimis (i.e. not worth the law bothering with). From what I could work out there was no equivalent of this principle in relation to copyright under English law.


Please note that the information in this blog post does not constitute legal advice. Should you require advice on copyright law you should instruct a suitably qualified legal professional.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s