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When writing a book, is including short quotes from movies, songs, other books, etc. without permission considered a copyright violation?

If I write a book and include a short quote from a movie/song/other book or other source and if I attribute the source and author but don't get advance permission to use the quote, what (if any) are the copyright implications?

For example, is there a minimum length of a quote that can be used without requiring permission from the author as long as the author and source are attributed?

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Anonymous User

Hi Jeff,

We often have to write website/blog content and on the odd occasion we may want to also quote movies, songs etc. In this case, we would probably get our client to consult a copyright lawyer/solicitor.

I found a forum thread here discussing this subject from a U.S. point of view - http://www.writersdigest.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=74167

From what they say and I understand, describing a scene, song or passage is fine. But quoting script/lyrics and so on would technically be copyright infringement unless a line has become a public catchphrase such as 'here's looking at you kid'...

They also advise that you should familiarize yourself with the basics of copyright law in the US... or wherever the film/song/book has been copyrighted originally...
> www.copyright.gov
> www.uspto.gov

I also think, fair use can be applied depending on the type of copyright. This article talks about fair use - https://janefriedman.com/the-fair-use-doctrine/

Personally if I was unsure, I'd collate what I had to do, then get the book audited by someone who specialises in copyright infringement so they can advise what I can or can't use and what may need further permission or fair use investigation.

I hope that helps,

Kind regards,

Owner/MD of Odyssey New Media Ltd
e: rstoubos(at)odysseynewmedia(dot)com
t: 07940420201


This is a very grey area so no one is going to be able to give you an answer that is valid if someone sues you for infringement.

There are experts who feel that quoting one line is ok and there are others who say you can copy up to 300 words. In general quoting a sentence or two is probably not going to cause problems for you.

My impression is also that words can be copy written but ideas can not. If you are just trying to make a point and don't need the exact quote to reinforce your point giving the information you want in your own words you should be fine.

Of course if the book you are writing becomes the next Harry Potter then you are going to be a target for anyone with dollar signs in their eyes.

Just to build on the issue of copyrighting ideas vs. words... If you read up on the US Patent and Trades Office site, you will find that ideas cannot be copyrighted, but words can.


The shorter the quote the better. Always credit the author. When I submitted my book for copyright I was informed that there was a number of placed where I had exceeded the length and needed to get the author's specific authorization. Be very careful in this area. Ask more than one source unless you are paying a lawyer who will back you in court.


I'll suggest you search for "fair use." As stated, short, attributed quotes should not be plagiarism. But don't print a Dilbert cartoon or the like without permission. Scott Adams will come after you.


As a speaker it is acceptable if you credit the person who's quote it is. Never use someone's quote and use it as your own or leave off the name of the author.


Hi, Jeff--There really is no magic formula as to minimums that can be used. It largely depends on how dependent the work is on the quotes and how much they play a role, and whether or not the copyright owner objects. And frankly, what the law says really doesn't matter much for people like us.

Why? Because, in my experience with IP attorneys (and from attending 20 years worth of copyright seminars at Comic-Con) is that ANYone can sue ANYone for copyright infringement, regardless of what the "law" says. Who has the biggest pockets usually wins. (Can you say "Disney"?)
So your best bet is to play it safe and ask for permission first. It costs nothing to send an email or make a phone call, other than your time.
Explain what the book is about, where it will be published and what you want to use. Shouldn't be an issue. The worst that happens is they say "no" and you choose a different quote.

The other tactic is to hope that your book flies below the radars of the copyright holders & their lawyers. If you're self-publishing/distributing and it's a specialized audience, the risk may be worth it if your time is limited.

Hope that helps. Good luck!


I agree with this being a "gray area." Most books state "do not use without permission" or something to that effect. My rule of thumb is always, always, attribute the quote to the author or writer. No one wants someone to us their work and not be given proper tribute or credit. Furthermore, this is a catch 22. If no one makes reference to the original source, how would the writer become known? The old saying is, "There's no such thing as bad press."

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