Need Copyright Fair use help with writing a book. Please help!

← Return to forum

  • I live in the USA and I am writing a book for the first time so I need some help with the copyright law. The one I am confuse is can I use a trademark; a famous person name who is alive; and exact word by word definition of a word from a dictionary website without asking permission from them directly since I will be only using it for comparison, comment, research and educational purposes. You can read the copyright fair use page here:
  • Regarding your copyright question about using exact word by word definition from a dictionary website.

    First, is this from a dictionary definition that was copyrighted prior to 1923? If so, it could be in the public domain and therefore no need to ask for permission. If 1923 or later, however, it is likely still protected by copyright. There are a number of dictionary websites that are in the public domain (see, for example, the ARTFL Project and Project Gutenberg).

    If you plan to quote verbatim from a dictionary published 1923 or later that is still protected by copyright, and assuming you are planning to produce multiple copies of your book for sale/distribution, I would recommend that you ask for permission to use the copyrighted material in your book. Based on the information you have provided above, it seems doubtful that your use would fall under section 107 Fair Use.

    Under the first criterion of Fair Use - purpose and character of the use - you might be able to argue a purpose of "comment" or "criticism" if your book is actually a commentary/criticism of the specific dictionary in question. The purposes of "research" and "educational" probably wouldn't apply to a book published commercially, because "research" fair use usually refers to the copying a researcher does for his/her own use and "educational" usually applies to using the copied materials for educational purposes in a classroom. Also under the first criterion, doubtful that your character of use would be seen as spontaneous, since you would have plenty of time to ask for permission prior to publishing your book.

    Under the second criterion - nature of the work - it would depend on whether the definition is more factual or more creative. If leaning toward factual - more likely to weigh toward fair use; if leaning toward creative - less likely to weigh toward fair use.

    Under the third criterion - amount and substantiality - the less you use, the more likely it would be fair use (especially if your use does constitute "comment" or "criticism" as mentioned above).

    Under the fourth criterion - effect on the potential market - it is possible that the copyright owner could claim diminished income from royalties they would have charged for your use.

    Regarding your questions on trademark and living-person name privacy, they're outside of copyright law and not something I can address.
  • It looks like you're really asking three questions here, only one of which actually relates to copyright.

    1. Can you use a trademark? I think it depends upon how you want to use it, but that would be a trademark, not a copyright, issue.

    2. Can you use the name of a famous, living person? Again, under copyright this is fine. Some states have other laws related to how the name of a famous person can be used, so you might want to check with a lawyer if you intend extensive use.

    3. Can you use a full dictionary definition? I'm not sure that dictionary definitions have enough creativity to be copyrightable, but even if so, it seems like this would likely be fair use. It's a published work, and it sounds like your use would be factual in nature; you're using a very small portion of the dictionary and one definition would not be significant to the work as a whole; your use would not negatively effect the market. This argument would be strengthened if your book were a favored use. You can see the whole checklist on this websites' homepage. In general, I think it's a good idea for you to do your own analysis, since you know much more about your intended use than you can provide here.

    Edited to add: I see that Ruth has posted while I was working on this post. It's interesting that we have such different takes on whether dictionary definitions would be considered fair use. I hope others respond as well. It would be interesting to see how others come down on the issue.
  • Funny that there are such different takes on the dictionary definition question. Not knowing all the details of the proposed use, I would say that using a single dictionary definition in the way you describe is probably a fair use.

    1) Purpose of the use: Unclear from your description, but it sounds like it could be in favor of fair use.
    2) Nature of the work being used: Factual. In favor of fair use.
    3) Amount and substantiality: Depends on whether you consider the whole dictionary to be the work, or whether you consider the definition to be the work. I'm inclined towards considering the whole dictionary to be the work, in which case one definition is a very small piece of the whole, and in favor of fair use.
    4) Impact on the market for the original: None. In favor of fair use.
  • Okay this is how i will exactly use the dictionary definition word for word from a website.

    Example: I will be writing on Harmful effects of pornography. So I will give the first example of its effects as
    Addiction and write the definition of addiction word by word like this:

    Addiction: The term "addiction" is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive physical dependence, such as: drug addiction, alcoholism, compulsive overeating, problem gambling, computer addiction, etc.

    Then write a paragraph or two how pornography can cause addiction.

    And i will be write in this style for at least 20 or more words and write the definition of it word by word from a website like this one:

    On trademarks I will use famous pornographies companies and criticize how badly they influense us with their entertainment media. So i will just name them and also have their logo printed on the book. Same goes for famous people but not use pictures.

    So is this all okay to do right and is protected with copyright fair use policy?
  • Again, we deal with copyright issues here, not trademark or libel, so we can't really answer the last part of your question. You might want to take that part to another forum.

    Your use of copyrighted material from a dictionary will be strengthened if you cite it properly. Until you have a publisher, you should choose one citation style and stick with it. Since this sounds like your general approach is psychological, you might use American Psychological Association style; or use the Modern Language Association (MLA) style, which is good for general humanities. In any case, anything directly quoted must be in quotation marks; whether quoted or paraphrased, you need to attribute your source in the text or in a footnote; and full bibliographic information should appear in your bibliography at the end. While plagiarism isn't a crime, the steps you take to avoid plagiarism can also help you avoid copyright violations. (If you're not familiar with using citation styles, you might want to talk to someone at your local library.)

    It also sounds like you will be using about 20 different definitions. To be on the safe side, you might want to spread this out and take your definitions from several different dictionaries. Not only will this strengthen your case for not taking substantial material from a single source, it will also strengthen your case for this being a work of criticism and research. Using more than one source shows you did some research and chose the best source for the job in each case, instead of just the source closest to hand.

    Here's a good source on citation styles:

    And this site from Purdue will give you more information on avoiding plagiarism:
  • Okay I understand now.

    If anyone don't mind, can they also tell me do i have to register with the usa copyright government if i live in the usa? Can i not register my book in another country online and without living their like canada and without being a citizen of it?

    Also, can i just pick up the copyright certificate for my book when it is approved from the office without them having to mail it? It is because of privacy reasons.

    Please, please let me know if you know anything about this. Thank you!
  • You do not need to register your copyright anywhere; copyright happens automatically the moment a work is created. Your book is already copyrighted.

    Registering your copyright does provide additional protections. If you believe that someone has infringed your copyright and you wish to take that person to court, you need to have a registered copyright in the work. You can register your copyright at any time.

    I don't know the answer to your question about which country you should register in, and a quick search of the United States Copyright Office website - - did not turn up a conclusive answer. Regardless of where you register your work, it seems very unlikely that you would be able to pick up the certificate of registration at the copyright office; I would imagine that the bureaucracies are too big to make that feasible.

Posting to the forum is only available to users who are logged in.

← Return to forum