Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fair Use of Copyrighted Material

Last month I warned you against using copyrighted material on the Internet without permission. But what if you can’t get permission?

The copyright law allows what it calls “fair use.” Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to know what use is fair.

The statute sets out several factors for courts to consider, but it isn’t a simple mathematical equation—just because you meet most of them doesn’t mean you win.* The courts look at all the facts and circumstances in the case. In Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a purported book review that used approximately 400 words from a 200,000 word manuscript violated the copyright.** For a more detailed discussion of that case, read my July 23, 2013 Hoosier Ink post. 

Still, by looking at the statute and the cases together, it is possible to get a general idea of what qualifies as fair use.

  • Criticism or comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research are often fair use, although it may depend on how much of the original material is borrowed. Fair use does not usually allow a teacher to copy books, movies, or music for classroom use.
  • If the use is primarily commercial (e.g., you included the lyrics from a copyrighted song in the novel you hope will become a bestseller), the courts are less likely to find that it is a fair use than if the use is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • The courts also consider the nature of the copyrighted work. The courts are more likely to find fair use for copying passages from a scientific text than for paraphrasing material from a novel.
  • If you use a significant amount or a defining aspect of the work, it is less likely to be a fair use. Those 400 words in the Nation Enterprises “book review” were less than .1% of the manuscript, but they were the meatiest parts.
  • The courts also look at how the use affects the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. If the use increases the copyright owner’s profits, it is probably fair use. If it takes money out of the owner’s pocket, it probably isn’t. For example, if you quote just enough to whet your readers’ appetites and send them running to the bookstore to buy the book, it is probably fair use (and the copyright owner is unlikely to complain, anyway). If you photocopy an entire book and give it to someone who might have bought it otherwise, it is unlikely to be a fair use. On the other hand, a negative book review may turn away potential buyers, but as long as it doesn’t use more of the text than is necessary to make its point, it is still fair use.

Here is my personal rule about using copyrighted material without permission: When in doubt, I don’t. But if I’m confident that it’s a fair use, I don’t let the copyright bullies talk me out of it.

Because that wouldn’t be fair.   


* 17 U.S.C. § 107 describes the fair use factors.

** Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985).


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What J. R. R. Tolkien Means to Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

If you read my blog post last month, I wrote on the importance of C.S. Lewis to me as a writer. This month, I will return to another writer who actually had a huge hand in converting C.S. Lewis to a Christian, which I’m extremely grateful. Without him, I don’t think we would have such lasting words of fiction and literary criticism from C.S. Lewis. He helped formed Lewis’ outlook on life. He was C.S. Lewis critique partner, even though he really didn’t like the Narnia stories.

Who am I talking about?

Why J. R. R. Tolkien, of course. You know, the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Unlike with C. S. Lewis, I never read these books as a kid. I read them as an adult. I remember going to see Thirteen Days with my husband and a friend of ours. During the previews, he got all excited as they showed images for the upcoming movie The Fellowship of the Ring. I had never even heard about the books, but being an avid reader, I found them at the local library and took them home to read.

I fell in love with the story. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobbit all living beside the Race of Man. I enjoyed how the story centered on a tiny ring, which could control and destroy lives. No one was immune to the powers of the small, sparkly circle. Even the landscape of Mordor was barren and dead, I enjoyed the land of the hobbits as they sat around and ate all day, doing nothing. What a life.

I loved the land of the elves who believed in magic and higher knowledge, even though they honestly didn’t want to share any of it with anyone else. Similarly, the dwarfs were fond of gold and hated the elves that didn’t come to help them in time of need. The Race of Man felt the need to control everything and deemed themselves better than the others who resided in their outer kingdoms.

J. R. R. Tolkien taught me that conflict between others is important to creating a good story. Even though we rooted for Frodo and Samwise to reach Mount Doom to dispose of the ring, we still felt bad for crazy Gollum who became obsessed with the ring and could think of nothing else. We watched the Orcs invade on the Race of Man a number of times.

Without conflict, the victory at the end of The Return of the King would not have been so sweet and victorious. We jumped in glee as Frodo surrendered his finger to selfish Gollum and watched him die in the lava of Mount Doom, destroying the enemy. I don’t know about you, but when the tower under the eye collapsed in on itself, I smiled and had to bat back tears that threatened to fall. It was a great moment.

Even though, one day there will be no conflict when we go to heaven, it is essential to every story we create. If there isn’t any conflict, then the readers won’t look forward to the “happily ever after” moment at the end of the story. I look forward to the day when there will be no problems in real life anymore.

But until that day, conflict needs to reside in the pages of our stories.

Are you a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing? Or have you just seen the movies? What do you take away from the books or movies as a writer or a reader?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Want to Be a Writer Like Castle

by Rachael Phillips 

Perhaps you are of noble literary stock, having sworn off television forever in order to perfect your craft. I, however, am married to a man who enjoys this kind of “together time,” and lately, we have succumbed to the Castle series.

For you who study adverbs together instead, Rick Castle is a internationally best-selling author who writes mystery and suspense novels. He works daily with a gorgeous, street-savvy New York City detective, Kate Beckett. Together, they put all the bad guys and girls in jail—she, wearing the appropriate bulletproof vest labeled “police,” and he wearing one labeled “writer.”      

Castle produces a new best seller with every episode—except when writer’s block strikes. Then he releases one every other episode. All this is accomplished in exactly one scene out of hundreds in which Castle actually plants his rump in a chair, sits at a computer and writes ... for exactly 13 seconds.

His reviews soar to the moon and back. Readers bow down and worship him on the streets. He never has to worry that his book-signing attendees only ducked into the bookstore to find Karen Kingsbury and/or a restroom.   

Did I mention he’s a millionaire? With a few estates dotted here and there that he kind of seems to forget about?

Unless my memory is worse than I thought, I don’t have extra mansions stashed away in Martha’s Vineyard.     

But, then, no muggers, mobsters, crazed scientists, crooked politicians, loco cowboys, pathological doctors or salivating tigers have chased me lately.

Hordes of readers do not visit shrines built in my honor. But one recent widower told my husband, his doctor, “I always look forward to Wednesdays, when the paper publishes your wife’s column. On Wednesdays, I know I will laugh.”

So, curled beside my honey on the couch with our February-appropriate lap robes, I can live vicariously through Castle’s blessings. And count my own.

Except for one thing.

I really want one of those vests with “writer” on it to wear to conferences.




Sunday, February 15, 2015

By His Grace

I’m feeling small and quiet today in light of God’s incomprehensible patience and goodness.

I’ve mentioned before how my writing journey has become intertwined with my spiritual journey in Christ. I am convinced now they are forever linked.

I have accepted that for my journey as a writer to advance, I must keep moving forward with Jesus, my Lord and Savior.

I must be willing to be soft and pliable.

I must be willing to repent when He exposes hidden sin in my life.

Sometimes I must wait for answers. And I have found that when I wait with expectation, God does answer.

The story I’m working on is one of two story ideas I got in my teens along with my “call” to write. I knew this was it; what God made me to do. Creating stories was so fun!

But I also noticed almost immediately that my friends – who did not feel compelled to write anything – were much better writers than me.

courtesy of
That’s why I earned a degree in journalism with a minor in English. If you want to write, learn how to write, right?

And God in His goodness blessed my efforts. I loved my classes. Every writing class had my complete attention and I got to write for a living for six years as a reporter/editor. I loved it. The hours and stress just about killed me, but I loved it.

Flash forward a mere 25 years later from my initial call to the present time and yet another failed attempt to place in a contest.

Until recently I have failed rather gracefully, if I do say so myself. Kept my chin up and took the constructive criticism in stride. But not this time. My reaction to this rejection was different.

This time I seethed. And to my ultimate shame, I directed that anger at God – the most powerful being in this and all universes who could make me a little grease spot on the floor, if He wanted to.

I think I even (I’m wincing as I write this) literally shook my fist at the heavens and said, “What are you doing to me? Why me? Why did you give this story to me?”

Have you ever been there? Am I the only one? You want to know what He said?
“Are you ready to do this my way now?”

I was like, “Wha?” Such a succinct, intelligent response all while sporting a Patrick Starfish look on my face I’m sure. I had to let that sink in for a minute. Finally I said, “I thought I was.”

Wow! What a revelation, huh?

So after positioning myself to humbly ask for God’s forgiveness and listen to Him, I asked again, “So why me? I’m obviously not up to the task. I thought you gave this story to me because I’m the only one who can write it.”

Basically, the answer was “No.” I wasn’t chosen for what I bring to the table.

I found my answer in a Bible my grandpa gave to my grandma for Christmas many years ago. In it was a narrow bookmark that says, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It still didn’t make sense to me until I read 2 Cor. 12:9 in the New Living Translation: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Oh. That’s why God chose me to write this story, so I can proclaim with the Apostle Paul the rest of the verse: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

Just like salvation, it’s not what I bring to the equation, it’s what He brings to it – Grace.

So now you know why I’m feeling small and am in awe of the Almighty God who is also my gracious Heavenly Father. Grace indeed.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Realists of a Larger Reality"

I draw inspiration from secular writers as much as from Christian writers because they often see with disarming clarity what writers are called to do. A good example was Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech at the National Book Awards in mid-November. This 85-year-old writer of science fiction observed that sci-fi and fantasy seldom receive national awards, but...
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
Like secular fantasy writers, we seldom win national literary prizes and we feel pressured to conform to publishers' commercial formulas. But we don't write for prizes or profits. As Le Guin says, we write because we are "the realists of a larger reality." We see blessed "alternatives to how we live now," and we want to write that vision. Our standard of success is how faithfully we depict that vision.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Editorial Director of Discipleship Resources & Curriculum for Warner Press, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at