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Copyright Permission March 11, 2011

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.

Last week, a father wrote me requesting permission for his daughter to recite one of my magazine stories at a school competition. He was concerned that she would be violating copyright law by reading or reciting the story in front of a large group of people.

I responded:

My understanding of the copyright laws is that a person can read a story in front of a group and no infringement of copyright has occurred unless a recording of the reading is made and sold. (The infringement comes in when people make money off of authors’ works without compensating them in any way–or even asking permission–or hurt the sales of an author’s work by giving away or selling copies or near-copies of his/her works.) It sounds to me as if your daughter will just be reading or reciting my story or a paraphrased version of it to a group. This is fine, and I’m honored that she enjoyed the story enough that she would choose to share it with a group. It would be great if she could acknowledge the source of the story (“based on a story by Ronica Stromberg in Clubhouse Magazine“). Beyond that, no compensation is needed. I wish her success!
I used to handle copyright permissions for a corporation, and the law has several nuances beyond what I mentioned in my response. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that giving credit to the author of a work (such as printing on a story something like, “Reprinted from [Title of Story] by [Author Name] in [date] of [Magazine Name]”) is the same as obtaining copyright permission. It isn’t. Copyright permission is only obtained by asking the author or publisher (whoever owns rights to the story or book) for permission to use the copyrighted work. When someone writes a publisher to ask for permission to copy and distribute a story or book, often the publisher will request payment based on how much of the work is used and how many people will be given copies. If the publisher or author grants permission to a person to use a work, that person will generally pay a fee and be allowed to make and distribute an agreed-upon number of copies. All of those copies will include a copyright notice telling that the piece was used with permission. They will also give credit such as “Reprinted from [Title of Story] by [Author Name] in [date] of [Magazine Name].” Giving credit is not the same as obtaining permission. Not giving credit is plagiarism; not obtaining permission is illegal. If someone copies an author’s work without permission, the author or publisher can take that person to court to seek financial compensation.
A person can use small percentages of a work while writing a review or commentary on it, and this is considered “fair use.” But using any part of song lyrics or poetry without requesting permission first isn’t advisable. Songs and poetry have such few words that it’s hard to take words from them without violating copyright law.
The law is also more lenient for works used in an educational setting (which I’m not going to discuss here).
Another important qualifier:  Had the father who wrote me requested that his daughter be allowed to recite my story while someone filmed her in preparation of putting it on YouTube, I would have denied the request. That would have violated my copyright. People don’t have to actually sell or make money off an author’s work to violate the copyright. By posting the entirety of my story on YouTube, they would have been giving my work away for free all over the Internet. I sold only the first rights of that story to the magazine, so I could still sell reprints of it to other magazines or publications. But, if my story were posted on the Internet, what publication would want to buy it? No one when any reader could get on the Internet and read the story or listen to it for free. That unauthorized posting would hurt my chance at future sales and, thus, would infringe on my copyright.
Copyright law is intended to protect the right of people to profit from their work. My best summary: If a work isn’t yours, don’t copy it or try to make a profit from it while leaving out the author or publisher. When in doubt, ask for permission.


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