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From the Editors' Association of Canada

Permissions and documentation:
When not to worry

By Lenore d'Anjou


The EAC-ACR listserv has recently featured several discussions about the need to obtain permission to reprint material that is under copyright. Respect for copyright is important, especially for an editor, who, as mediator between writer and reader, has a responsibility to promote fair treatment of intellectual property.

But it's easy to be overscrupulous. There's no need to refuse to use material when doing so would be ethical and legal.

Many such situations exist. For example, you never need permission to use information or ideas. What's under copyright is the "fixed form" of information (in written material, the words in which it is expressed). So you need reprint permission only for direct quotes and for paraphrases so close to the original that they could have come from nowhere else.

Nor do you need reprint permission for all direct quotes and paraphrases. The doctrine of fair dealing justifies use of extracts without permission so long as the material used does not represent a substantial portion of the work quoted. Unfortunately, neither the Copyright Act nor any Canadian court has defined what substantial means here, but the key seems to be relative length: one line of a haiku might be judged substantial, but a total of 900 words from a 950,000-word book probably wouldn't.

In Canadian Copyright Law (1995), Lesley Ellen Harris quotes a 1972 court decision: "To take long extracts and attach short comments may be unfair. But, short extracts and long comments may be fair. After all is said and done, it must be a matter of impression."

Harris's book is not light reading, but it should be on every Canadian editor's bookshelf. And for a practical overview of U.S. copyright law -- quite different from Canadian in some respects -- see the New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage (1994).

Another issue goes hand in hand with copyright concerns. If you use material from another source, respect for the original author and courtesy to the reader require documenting where it came from. But, here again, it's easy to go overboard.

The genre you are working in is your guide to the amount and prominence of documentation to provide. (The NYPL Writer's Guide has good thoughts here too.) In a work of children's nonfiction, a generalized credit can be slipped into the text ("Some scientists think") and a specific one into the front or back matter ("The graph in Chapter 2 is from"). In popular articles, many publishers use minimal in-text credit ("According to a recent Statistics Canada report").

Scholarly studies, in contrast, require careful documentation. But the format is less important than the content. The goal of any citation is to give readers enough information about the source to check it themselves if they want to. The Chicago Manual of Style (1993) offers 213 pages of detail on the two reference systems it recommends. The Modern Languages Association and the American Psychological Association each have their own style. So do a variety of health and hard-science groups. Do not get hung up on any of these conventions. They differ mostly in punctuation, use of abbreviations and order of some information.

Strict adherence to a style guide can be invaluable when an editor is facing hundreds of notes and a next-day deadline or when a multi-author or periodical format demands consistency from a variety of editors. But in the absence of specific instructions, you can often use any format you want as long as you stick to it consistently.

Just remember the basic information the reader needs:
- the name of the author(s)
- the title of the piece and the number of the edition if it's not the first
- the facts of publication, which for a book include place, publisher and date

You may add other useful information (e.g., the French title of a bilingual publication, an organizational series number, etc., etc., etc.).

For a piece that's part of a larger work, such as an article in a multi-author book, you add the name of that larger work and any general editor. And for a piece that's been in a periodical (a journal, magazine or newspaper), you include the name of that periodical, its volume number and/or issue identifier (i.e., number, month or season) and the date of publication.

All the other possibilities -- from unpublished letters to court cases to Web sites -- can fit within these templates, more or less tidily, if you keep in mind what a reader would require to find this source.

For the editor, two important questions are essential:

Is it legal and ethical to copy this?

If the answer to the first question is yes, what information does a reader need to find the source?


Lenore d'Anjou, an award-winning editor from Toronto, is an honorary life member of the Editors' Association of Canada. Reprinted with permission from Active Voice (October 1998), newsletter of the Editors' Association of Canada.

For more information about the Editors' Association of Canada/Association canadienne des redacteurs-reviseurs, see their listing in Sources.

Useful references:
Lesley Ellen Harris. 1995. Canadian Copyright Law. 2nd ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage. 1994. New York: HarperCollins, The Stonesong Press.
University of Chicago Press. 1993. The Chicago Manual of Style. 14th ed. Chicago and London.

 

Published in Sources, Number 43, Winter 1999.

See also:
Battle Rages Over Electronic Publishing Rights
A Copyright Tutorial
Electronic Rights (and Wrongs)
CANCOPY and photocopying
If It's Worth Publishing, It's Worth Paying For

 




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