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Writing a novel, is it legal in terms of copyright to have a character reading aloud a passage from an existing book? Something like this:

John opened Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and looked Maria intently. With a smirk, he began reading.

"Two of the young women were brought back into the house from the fields to care for Lestat's father, and I told them I wanted as much privacy as possible and they would all of them be rewarded not only for service but for leaving me and Lestat absolutely alone."

"Stop!" Maria said, "I don't wanna hear more about it."

Would this be considered "fair use", considering it's a minute excerpt from the entire novel (and with attribution of the source), even if my own novel is a for-profit-work?

To clarify, the character of John (in this example) would do that with several other existing books, but only with such short excerpts every time; no direct quotation would be longer than a short paragraph.

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You would definitely want to check what copyrights are associated with the works you plan to quote from. Also, you will HAVE to somehow properly cite each passage you use to give credit where it is due, although HOW you will do this in a creative work, I am not sure.

You wouldn't be affecting the original work's general marketability or profit by quoting from it. You aren't inherently spoiling the work or profiting off of it directly. I think you have a case for fair use, despite it not being a fully "transformative" use, but you definitely should look more into copyright and fair use just so you are completely safe from future legal action against you that may negatively impact your work.

EDIT: I mean that to apply to any work you are using. Copyright law is generally the same, but its status is dependent on many factors, as is fair use. Some writers greatly frown upon or even forbid their works from being used in many ways. There is the standard copyright when works are published, which states that works are public domain 70 years after author death if copyright isn't renewed by, say the family, who then may own the work as a result of the original author's passing. Anne Rice is still living, so that does not apply to THIS work, but you'll want to check that for any others. Also, some materials allow certain licenses of use and reproduction, but this is not always or generally true of published books. Also, fair use is not a concrete topic at this point. It is still highly debated. So even a small snippet, if it is seen as the "heart" of a work, can be disallowed. It is also reliant on market effect, purpose of use (commercial vs non-profit), and the nature of the copyrighted work itself.

You will definitely want to look up Ms. Rice's stance on use of her work in different forms. For other inquiries or to see if there has been legal action against snippets used or with her or other authors, you can probably look around this site: https://copyright.gov/

It has FAQs on copyright and you can see if you really do qualify under Fair Use for your intended purpose based on precedents or inquiries that may already have been made similar to your question.

  • Could you please elaborate on the "check what copyrights are associated" part? I thought copyright law is the same for all texts (provided they're not out of copyright - i.e. too old). In other words, how does one "check what copyrights are associated"? – TasosPaterakis Sep 25 '18 at 6:23
  • I added more into my answer under the "edit" heading to elaborate on what I said :) – Kari Sep 26 '18 at 2:30

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