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A question for professional writers


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#1 Joe Fan

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 07:14

I realize that this is probably more of a topic for the Paddock club but since this is where most of the writers flock, then I will ask it here.

As far as Copyright and "Fair Use" laws go, how does this apply to paraphasing factual events read in various written articles. It seems confusing to me when something becomes a copyright infringement and when it is not and what a copyright actually protects. When writing bios, oftens times you have to basically paraphase actual events read from other articles, which seems to be legal, providing how public the scope of the event was.

However, when one article delves deeper into a particular event's happenings than others, then does using this information without obtaining permission, constitute a copyright infringement unless permission is obtained? Another thing, it seems strange that quotes in an article from someone other than the author of the article, would be under copyright but they are. Why? In the age of media Q&A sessions between athletes and reporters, dozens of reporters use the same quotes. A quote from an individual is a unique expression from the individual, not the interviewer.

Some facts that I have found:

1) The Fair Use act allows you to use up to 300 words of copyrighted material before having to obtain permission with some restrictions.

2) It is technically copyright infringement even if you re-use your own work.

I am just curious about these legal issues and if anyone else has asked themselves these questions. Now that I am in the beginning phases of writing a biography for profit, it is time to get these issues ironed out.

[p][Edited by Joe Fan on 09-15-2000]

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#2 Rainstorm

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 01:06

Joe Fan,

There are a few important things you have to remember with regards to copyright of written material:

1) Facts are not, and cannot be copyrighted. That someone wrote before you about an event, does not mean he owns the copyright to the actual event's existance.

2) Upon researching on a subject, you are bound to rely on various sources - some will be "yours" (meaning, people you directly interviewed), and some will be previously published material. When dealing with previously published material, separate it into three classes:

  • Quotes. Quotes in general are not copyrighted per say, however should be referenced. Meaning, you can quote what someone said to writer x, but you must attribute the quote to where it was taken from (Stirling Moss told Alan Henry, "exact quote.").
  • Facts. As mentioned, no copyright exists over facts. However, if someone had an exclusive revelation of facts, you would be expected, as in the quotes, to attribute it the source. For example, if Ron Dennia reveals in his autobiography that Mika Hakkinen loves sleeping late, you could either verify it yourself (call Erja), in which case it's no longer exclusive, or you can rely on Dennis's book, in which case you must write that, "In his book, 'I'm a wanker', Dennis claims that..." etc.
  • Creation. Now THAT is the part that is protected. The actual creation - the words that combine to a sentence. You cannot copy a creation as-is without previous permission, be it a book or an article. And as for rewriting it, if all you do is just change "hello" with "hi" and "bye" with "goodbye", then you'll still be in breach of copyright laws.

Above all, I would thoroughly recommend remembering that writers like being referred to and based on. They don't like being copied from. If you can understand and make this distinction, you will be in the legal side of things.

Regards,

Rain

p.s.

You might want to visit this site: http://www.benedict....basic/basic.htm

#3 Felix Muelas

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 10:26

Rainstorm,

Thank you. I think you perfecly approached the subject in an impecable explanation, that applies generally to any jusrisdiction.
:-)
Felix


#4 Barry Lake

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 10:49

Rainstorm
Until I just looked at your profile, I wondered how you could have explained it so well.
I don't think anyone needs to add much to that.
The only thing I would say to Joe Fan is to be careful not to believe every report he reads, no matter how qualified the writer. Even the best make mistakes - especially in the old days, before TV replays, when a lot of information was gained second-hand.
Just because something is in print doesn't mean it is correct.

#5 Rainstorm

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 14:44

Barry,

Absolutely! And moreover, the fact that something was printed previously elsewhere, does not provide you any kind of legal defense in the case of libel suit.

Thanks both for your kind words :)

Regards,

Rain

#6 Joe Fan

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 15:42

Rainstorm, from what I have read and how I interpret what I have read, quotes are copyright protected. This does not mean that you cannot use a small portion of them withour seeking permission but if an entire article is nothing but quotes and all you do is simply reference it and use all these quotes, this would be a copyright infringement.

The basis of argument here I believe would be that the author went to the trouble of performing the interview and this is his work even though quotes are not a creation or expression of the author.


As far as facts, doesn't the degree in which the fact is public knowledge affect this? For example, if Stirling Moss qualified 3rd for the 19xx British Grand Prix, lead 20 laps and won the race, these would all be examples of facts that cannot be copyrighted. However, what if a writer found out that Stirling wore a good luck charm in his shoe and wrote this in his article. The team thought the engine would blow because the car was overheating on the last lap and this was written in the article as well. Aren't these facts but due to their "insider nature" and would be protected under copyright laws unless someone else wrote the same things?

#7 Rainstorm

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 15:59

Joe Fan,

"but if an entire article is nothing but quotes and all you do is simply reference it and use all these quotes, this would be a copyright infringement"


Your example is so radical, that it's easy to answer: you just gave an example whereby you were to copy an entire creation :)

I want to give you a very tangible example of such situation where you use quotes from another source, so I did some digging and searching in the Atlas F1 news. This is what I came up with, and I guess it's a good example as any: a report about Bernie admitting to be a Ferrari fan, whereby the entire report is based on quotes from an interview Bernie gave ITV. This is entirely legal. http://www.atlasf1.c...ort.php?id=2900. However, if Atlas F1 news were to transcribe the interview and post it as-is without prior permission, it would have been illegal.

Hope this distinction helps.

As far as facts, doesn't the degree in which the fact is public knowledge affect this? For example, if Stirling Moss qualified 3rd for the 19xx British Grand Prix, lead 20 laps and won the race, these would all be examples of facts that cannot be copyrighted. However, what if a writer found out that Stirling wore a good luck charm in his shoe and wrote this in his article. The team thought the engine would blow because the car was overheating on the last lap and this was written in the article as well. Aren't these facts but due to their "insider nature" and would be protected under copyright laws unless someone else wrote the same things?


I've addressed this in my earlier post, where I distinguished between facts that are widely known and facts which have been exclusively revealed by a writer.

if you write "The McLaren team thought the engine would blow before the race" and then I write, "According to Joe Fan's book, the McLaren team was certain the engine could not last the race." -- this would be perfectly legal. However, I would be better off contacting someone at McLaren to verify this, whereby my end result would be to say, "Adrian Newey says, 'we really didn't think the engine would last a race'." This would be considered better writing, but it doesn't make the previous example any less legal - style and copyright have nothing to do with one another, so don't confuse the two.

The important thing is to apply common sense and not math to copyright dilemmas, Joe Fan. You seem intent on attacking this issue with a ruler. Sometimes it's best to simply *think*: what are your motives for using something previously published? Can this information be obtained elsewhere? Is your end creation in any way alike someone else's, to the extent that a bystander would think you "stole" someone else's work?

Copyright is very complicated, but it's one of the most logical laws there are. So apply logic, simple man's logic to it. And when in doubt, consult someone who is more experienced.

By the way, not to take a dig at you or anything, but all the writers I know would do anything possible to come up with an original work. Copyright infringements rarely occur when someone is writing his lifetime's work :)

Hope this helps.

Regards,

Rain

#8 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 17:33

Rainstorm,
Thank you for letting us know about this very important issue and I truly appreciate your advise very much.

First, do you know for how long old newpaper or magazine stories are copyrighted. I work on a story about the Elgin Road Races and use mainly newspaper accounts from 1910 to 1933 and make only slight changes to the stories. I also use reports from 1910-1933 magazines reports in the same way. Someone told me I can do so without getting permission from the publisher or make reference of my sources. Is that legal?

Second, I work mostly with German language newspapers or magazines before the year 1941. Not only do I translate the text into English, but also alter the text in the same way as mentioned above. Is that legal with the old magazines?

For how long are photographs, which appear in these old magazines, protected? Do you have something on that?

#9 Rainstorm

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 18:09

Hans,

Duration of copyright is extremely complicated and I won't dare make a recommendation or pass judgement on it. You see, there are a few factors:

1) Ownership of copyright: does the owner (person or company) still exist? And even if not, where the copyrights transferred to a new owner (inherent or sold to)? If so, then common practice has it that the material is still protected by copyright, regardless of when it was created. (The basic formulae for copyright is something like 70 years after the owner cease to exist, but even that's not entirely accurate for all cases). Furthermore, and especially in the case of newspapers and magazines, normally the copyright ownership goes with the magazine ownership, in which case even if the magazine was sold to some new publisher, the copyright are also moved to the new publisher.

2) If the material was published prior to 1978, what kind of a copyright notice did it bear? (The current law, which changed in 1978, protects any material, even if its copyright notice is poorly worded or none existent. However, prior to 1978, if the copyright notice did not match the law's requirements to a T, the owner could have - and have in fact - lost the copyright ownership to the public domain).


Sorry I can't help you for more than that. I'll ask around though, and let you know if I come up with more accurate or helpful answers.

Regards,

Rain

#10 Joe Fan

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 18:19

Hans, here is a website that can answer your questions: http://www.lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/

#11 Joe Fan

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 18:23

Rainstrom, I have found that material copyrighted from Jan. 1st 1964 to December 31st 1977, is still under copyright protection even without the claimant renewing the previous 28 year initial copyright protection. This renewal became automatic with an Act passed in 1992.

P.S. I had hoped some rather obscure motorbooks copyrighted before Jan 1st 1964 by now deceased writers, would not have had their copyright renewed and extended but damn it, they have been apparently by family members. I bet copyright lawyers research this type of thing to find out when books potentially lose their copyright protection and then these lawyers swoop down on families to make the quick and easy buck.

#12 Joe Fan

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 19:56

Originally posted by Barry Lake
The only thing I would say to Joe Fan is to be careful not to believe every report he reads, no matter how qualified the writer. Even the best make mistakes - especially in the old days, before TV replays, when a lot of information was gained second-hand.
Just because something is in print doesn't mean it is correct.


Your trying to tell me this after that Mike Lawrence MotorSport comment about Masten being a habitual drug user?:lol:

#13 rainern

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Posted 20 September 2000 - 17:17

All this legal stuff is amazing for a layman...!

And I just remembered this joke :

You're trapped in a room with a tiger, a rattlesnake, and a lawyer.You have a gun with two bullets. What should you do? Shoot the lawyer. Twice.

No offence Felix.....:)

Haha...:)

#14 Joe Fan

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Posted 21 September 2000 - 00:37

Rainstorm, one of the reasons why I am confused is due to the fact of what I see being done in actual practice. You state that quotes should be referenced but I have an example where quite a few quotes of Masten Gregory were used in an encyclopedia of race drivers bio on him, that came from another author's interview article. Nothing in the encyclopedia bio text states where the quotes came from.

#15 Gil Bouffard

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Posted 21 September 2000 - 04:33

I've always thought that attribution and bibliographic notes protected the current writer and added to the ego of the original author.

I am a big believer in sharing, especially where it is beneficial to both.

Gil

#16 Ray Bell

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Posted 30 September 2000 - 03:51

Can I quote you on that?