Redemption Press Blog

Getting Permission to Quote a Copyrighted Work

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Over the last 25 years I have watched publisher’s guidelines for authors citing copyrighted works increase dramatically.

When I started out, I tried to find out what other publishers held up as limits on what would be considered “fair use.” There had to be a line where authors would be required to gain and possibly pay for permission from the publisher in order to quote the work.

It was difficult to get any consensus on it, so let’s start out with the foundation:

fair use


noun: fair use; plural noun: fair uses

1.(in US copyright law) the doctrine that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatm for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching,           and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder.

If your use of a quote from a published book, article or other copyrighted material falls outside of the fair use doctrine, then you must fill out a permission request and potentially be charged by the copyright holder for the use of the quote.

Here are the parameters I used for many years, initially because Thomas Nelson Publishers showed it as their guidelines back in the early 90s. As long as you, the author, stayed within these boundaries, you did not have to request permission, as long as you gave an accurate citation as follows:

Title of book, Author, copyright (c) [year][name of copyright owner]; or Title of Article,

Author, Journal Title and Volume/Issue Copyright (c) [year] [name of copyright owner]

One other important item…no matter how short your quote, if the quote encompass the central message of the entire work, then it is no longer fair use and you must gain permission from the publisher.

So, here are the guidelines I used for my first 20 years in publishing:

●500 words from a book

●100 words from an article

●1 line or the title of a song or a poem

Over the last 20-25 years, I’m guessing due to litigation and publishers wanting to limit their liability, those numbers have come down almost 50%. At Redemption Press, in order to protect our authors and insure they don’t set themselves up for copyright infringement allegations, we require our authors either provide their own proof of permission or pay for our permissions expert to obtain the permissions when the quotes cited exceed:

●250 words from a book

●50 words from an article

●Anything more than the title of a song or poem

●More than 25% of the entire manuscript is scripture taken from one particular Bible translation.

A few months ago I was reviewing a potential manuscript. The author was considering bringing over all three books to Redemption Press from Tate Publishing. Tate is one of those “impostors” I talk about in my webinar and other posts about publishers who call themselves traditional publishers when they, in fact, are not. I was completely shocked to discover that all three books quoted poems by famous authors in their entirety. When I asked the author and his project manager if the risk for copyright infringement had been addressed by Tate, they were ashamed to admit their publisher never requested permission to use the poems and the authors were not required to do so by the publisher. That is not fair to the author or to the copyright holder. Shame on them!

I have covered the basics here, but there is a lot more that can be expounded on regarding the fair use copyright laws, so here’s a great place to start if you’d like to go more in depth.

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Meet the Publisher

I've been around Christian publishing since 1987 when I helped our ministry self-publish an important resource for Vietnam veterans and their families. That book went on to be picked up by a royalty publisher and has since sold over 250,000 copies with a million in print.

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