Sunday, February 7, 2010

Resources for Writers #6: Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain


Writers are also readers, and we stumble across so much good information that we would like to incorporate in our own stories and novels. The problem is, that poem or those song lyrics aren’t ours, and we may or may not be able to “borrow” them for our personal use, particularly if we may profit monetarily from their use. The “fair use” doctrine isn’t very specific, as far as I’m concerned, mainly because what is fair for one may not be fair for another. So, I try to be very careful to use only what is in the public domain.

According to Wikipedia, “the public domain is an intellectual designation for the range of content that is not owned or controlled by anyone.”  In addition, they “are public property and available for anyone to use freely for any purpose”.

It sounds simple enough, but then there is the problem of finding out of the song lyrics or the poem or the quote that would “just fit” your story or novel is or is not public property.

 Wikipedia gives a good overview of laws regarding copyright issues in the U.S. as well as other countries.

Wikipedia: Public Domain


Here are some charts and tables that may be helpful also:

When U.S. Works Pass into Public Domain


List of Public Domain Music


Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States (Jan. 1, 2010)


Here are some links to information about the “fair use doctrine”:




The penalties for copyright infringement are stiff, so the wise author will adhere to the premise of “When in doubt—check it out”. Even then, there could be a problem—but at least you made a dedicated effort.


3 comments:

nlindabrit said...

Thank you for that interesting analysis of what is a very important issue for all writers.

K9friend said...

A sticky area of the law, indeed. Thanks for the resources!

AnneMarie Novark said...

Thanks, Judy. Great links and resources.