Many of my clients who have written non-fiction self-help books (business, health, politics) have used quotes from other authors in their own text. These quotes can be just a few sentences or entire paragraphs (which makes them excerpts). My clients often ask me, “Is this okay to do? Can I use a quote or an excerpt without getting accused of plagiarism?”
This is what I tell my clients. I’m not a copyright lawyer, so I can’t provide the nuances of the law. To my non-legal mind, the key conceptual difference between stealing and rightful use is this: If you’re quoting something to comment on it and discuss it, then it’s fair use. If you’re simply lifting a section of text from someone else because you’re too lazy to write it yourself and you want to use it to fill out your book, then you’ve crossed the line into unlicensed use.
Look at it this way: How would you respond if someone used a quote or an excerpt from your book in theirs? If they were analyzing or discussing it, you couldn’t complain. It would be protected by the concept of fair use. But if they used the excerpt as a way to augment their own writing, you’d be annoyed and you might call your lawyer.
Generally, if you give full credit to the author, you’re on safe ground for short passages that are part of a larger discussion. If you’re in doubt, consult a lawyer – or just wait and see if anyone sends you notice to cease and desist! This will probably never happen unless your book is a best seller, in which case you’ll have enough cash to pay a lawyer to sort it out.
- Thomas Hauck is a leading freelance ghostwriter and book editor serving global clients. Contact Thomas for more information.