The Fine Line Between Wrong and Write
Dec 19, 2013
The Internet is a powerful tool. It’s changed our lives in so many ways, and made sharing knowledge much easier. All the information we could ask for is at the click of a button. Researching the topic you are writing a book about is now easier than ever. It’s all too tempting to copy information you find on websites, include bits and pieces of that information and place it in your manuscript as you’re writing. A little copy, paste here. A little copy, paste there. As long as you’re citing all the sources you are using in your bibliography it’s okay, right? Not necessarily.
If you’re going to directly quote the source, in most cases you’ll need to obtain permission to use the text/quoted material from the source in your manuscript. Even if you paraphrase from a source, you need to be sure to cite it. You may hear that there are some guidelines out there about how much text is “okay” to directly quote out of someone’s book, or from a poem or song. Unless you’re hearing those guidelines from your editor or publisher, be wary of who you’re hearing that information from. There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there.
A skilled editor will work with an author to identify areas where they may be using material that they don’t have the proper rights or permissions to use. A publisher or publishing support company can assist an author in obtaining special permissions from sources when needed. If you do get permission to use things like song lyrics or passages of text from another book, pay close attention to the terms of the permission you have been granted. There may be limitations to how many copies of the book you can sell with the material in it, or how many months you are allowed to use that material, or even restrictions on the countries where your book can be sold .
Writers may think that “so and so” that they quoted, or used material from will “never know” or “never see their book” but in today’s blogging, tweeting, “going-viral” age, their book could end up in anyone’s hands, or on anyone’s tablet screen. If a writer is caught using material that they don’t have permission to use, there are some stiff penalties: fines could be in the thousands of dollars, and in more serious cases, the penalty is jail time. The general rule of thumb? Use your own material, and don’t use anyone else’s material that you don’t have written permission to use.