Friday, August 13, 2010

Editing Tip #41: Permissions

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2010

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


When you as an author sign a contract with a publisher, you are guaranteeing that your work is original and that you have properly credited any sources used.

What Do You Need Permissions For?

Permission is required for using anything that is under copyright and that does not fall into the category of "fair use." This includes more than text or words. Illustrative materials such as tables, charts, and photographs are also protected by law.

The federal copyright law protects all published and unpublished "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated." This protection lasts during the life of the author and for another fifty years thereafter.

The "fair use" of copyrighted material allows you to copy short portions of other work (usually under 100 words) for certain purposes. By definition of law "the fair use of a copyrighted work . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, . . . scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." Specific factors to be considered in determining whether use is "fair" include: (1) the purpose and character of the use, (2) the nature of the copyrighted work, (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used relative to the copyrighted work as a whole, and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Basically, quoting a short section (100 words or less) of someone else’s work in order to comment on or critique it is considered fair use.

The Chicago Manual of Style (4.45-47 in the 15th edition) offers several guidelines on "fair use." Basically, you may cite other works to illustrate or support your points, as long as you quote these works accurately and properly credit your sources. You must not take another author's words out of context or quote them excessively. (Use of anything in its entirety—a poem, essay, or chapter of a book—is rarely acceptable.)

No permission is necessary to use works in the public domain (those whose copyrights are expired or which were never copyrighted). Anything published in the United States prior to 1906 can be assumed to be in the public domain (CMS-15 4.4, 4.42). Examples of works in this category include hymns, popular poems, and classic texts. Many works published more recently are also in the public domain. (Of course, acknowledgment of sources is still appropriate.)


NOTE: It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this
publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the author. To request permission, please e-mail


Kathy Ide has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. Her books include Polishing the PUGS and Fiction and Truth. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor, offering a wide range of editorial services for authors and publishers. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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