I am writing a book on English language. Which is bilingual book. So I would need some examples from dictionary. So can I use these examples in my book.

I don't mind mentioning which dictionary example is from.

Your advice ?

  • 5
    If you write a book about dictionaries, then giving an illustrative example would be fair use, but using the work and money of those scholars and institutions that created the dictionary because you are unable or unwilling to find or create your own example sentences is copyright infringement.
    – user5645
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 15:15

1 Answer 1


Dictionary examples will take the form of either quotations from sources that have previously used that word. Or it will be a sentence that was constructed by the dictionary writer.

So if you look for the word 'Example' in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the example phrases is

1803 Pic Nic No. 4. 5 They must be made an example of.

This is a quote from the Charles Dickens (et. al.) collection called Pic Nic, written in 1803, hence out of copyright and free to be used wherever you wish it.

If you look at the Google definition of Example you get

it is important that parents should set an example

Since there is no attribution to this, then you are subject to the copyright of the owner. In this case Google, however there isn't an easily findable statement of their copyright policy. Which in your case would mean you would need to seek permission to use it.

The alternative is to create your own usage. Simply think of a short sentence that would put that word into context.

This is an example of a sentence.

As for whether it is fair use...

In Folsom v. Marsh Judge Story said (in an opinion that ultimately became the fair use law)

[A] reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his design be really and truly to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism. On the other hand, it is as clear, that if he thus cites the most important parts of the work, with a view, not to criticize, but to supersede the use of the original work, and substitute the review for it, such a use will be deemed in law a piracy

If your aim was to criticise or otherwise comment on the examples, then your usage would fall under fair use. However, from what you say I can't imagine how it wouldn't be considered simply superseding the original work.

In essence you are saying 'I like that example, I'm going to use that too' without adding anything to the public knowledge.

That you are looking to publish a book using those quotes, and hence create commercial benefit would certainly not help your case.

Finally, fair use is a concept that only applies in the US. Meaning you could quite easily be taken to court for copyright infringement in another country (that your book was sold in)

  • I would add that all of this is my opinion, I am not a legal expert, and you really should talk to one if you don't want to risk losing things that you hold dear.
    – Michael B
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 5:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.