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I'm learning the ropes regarding fair use. An important key word appears to be "transformative." If I'm writing political commentary, and I violently disagree with someone else's opinion, I can quote them, then analyze what they said and rip it apart. I believe this qualifies as fair use even in a for-profit book.

But can I quote someone I agree with? For example, imagine if I write, "Climate change is progressing faster than anyone expected." Then, to back it up, I write the following:

I'm not alone. Check out what Dr. Franz Richard says . . .

(I then quote Dr. Richard saying something similar.)

Would this 1) qualify as fair use, 2) NOT qualify as fair use, or 3) qualify as a gray area that may or may not get you sued?

P.S. I tried to insert the tag "fair use," but it apparently doesn't exist.

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That's (usually) fair use

It is not only acceptable in non-fiction writing to quote others to support your own points, it is very common. Just make sure that your quoting is attributed and not excessive.

According to the nonprofit Authors Alliance:

In nearly all of the best practices statements, authorial communities have concluded:

Principle

Fair use applies when the copyrighted material is being used to illustrate, support, or prove an argument or a point (subject to the limitations below).

This is also a longstanding principle reflected in court decisions.

The principle recognizes that authors’ arguments are much stronger and clearer when they are supported by examples.

Existing best practices statements and courts identify several important limitations that can guide authors when they are using copyrighted material to illustrate, support, or prove an argument or a point.

Again, a key limitation is that authors should only use as much of the copyrighted work as is reasonably appropriate for the reader to assess the validity of their point.

Limitation

The amount copied should be reasonable in light of the illustrative purpose.

Another limitation is that merely decorative or entertaining uses of copyrighted material under the guise of illustration are inappropriate. Instead, there should be a clear connection between the copyrighted material and the point being made. That said, at least one statement of best practices explicitly states that “should a work chosen for its significance to an argument also be entertaining, that fact should not disqualify the use from being considered fair.”

Limitation

The copyrighted material should not be reproduced for its intrinsic, expressive purpose. Uses that are solely decorative or entertaining should be avoided.

Finally, it is considered best practice to credit, in a reasonable manner, the author of materials that are copied.

This is from their book Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors: Common Scenarios with Guidance from Community Practice by Brianna L. Schofield and Robert Kirk Walker, published under CC BY 4.0. You may want to check out the full book (freely available online) which also cites some court cases.

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  • Awesome; I'll get a copy of that book. I'm a little confused by the meaning of "decorative or entertaining" use. Am I correct in guessing that that's a gray area that might be decided in a courtroom? In other words, if it was decided that a particular quote was included not because it supports the narrative but because it's humorous or was written by a famous author, then I might have erred?
    – Paredon
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:43
  • @Paredon The book covers more than just writers quoting part of a longer work and in other situations, there may be more of an issue. The book gives this in an example: "She should avoid just showcasing advertisement images without adding additional content that makes it clear how these images support her argument about gender stereotypes." Personally, I think most writers will already be doing that — it's just good writing.
    – Laurel
    Aug 25, 2023 at 20:53
  • By the way, the link in my post is to a PDF of the book so you can read it.
    – Laurel
    Aug 25, 2023 at 20:54
  • Got it. Great tips.
    – Paredon
    Aug 25, 2023 at 23:06

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