How much of the material can I quote from a copyrighted source without getting permission from the copyright holder? It’s a difficult question to answer.
While giving authors broad protection for their work, copyright is not absolute. One of the best ways to understand some of the limits to copyright protection is to seek guidance from the U.S. Government’s Copyright Office. The information listed below comes from the Copyright Office’s website:
One of the more important limitations of a copyright is the doctrine of fair use.
Section 107(of the Copyright law) contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.