[LMB] OT: Picking a scene

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Tue Sep 6 00:48:17 BST 2011

Pete: I would avoid anything currently in copyright.  "Fair use" usually is
limited to 250 words or less.

John: Pete, I'd be interested to know your source/authority for the figure
of 250. My understanding -- with reference to the US only, 'Fair Use' being
a term promulgated only in US law, by the 1976 Copyright Act -- is that
there is neither any statutory not accepted practical definition of the
wordcount Fair Use allows.

Court decisions have found various things *not* to be Fair Use in the first
place, but I am not aware of any decisions that (i) agree Fair Use *could*
apply but that it has been exceeded, and (ii) involve quotations of less
than 1,000 words -- i.e. all the decisions of which I'm aware concern
plainly excessive quotation

In practice, the suggested limit of 250 words is certainly exceeded very
widely and frequently, on both sides of the Atlantic, without incurring any
legal action, professional censure, or commercial hostility.

In the UK, BTW, the equivalent of Fair Use is a voluntary agreement between,
IIRC, the Society of Authors and a consortium of publishers, and specifies
that reasonable free use shall not exceed (i) a single passage of 400 words
or (ii) a series of passages totalling not more than 800 words, the longest
being no more than 300 words, or (iii) 25% of the work as a whole (meaning
that if it's a sonnet you can have 3.5 lines for free, but for 4 or more you
gotta pay, or at least offer to pay).

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)
Director of Studies in English, St Catharine's College

General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs

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