Answers to Copyright Questions

Some time ago I started a blog which sets out questions and answers to copyright questions. The questions are divided into 16 categories so they can easily be searched. Many people continue to contribute questions as comments which I answer (usually within 24 hours) and which I eventually incorporate into my postings. Please help me by posting your copyright questions —



  1. Scott Kaczorowski

    I am a student and a preacher and I recently discovered in trying to search for what can/cannot be used in a sermon, that you cannot use material that is the “heart” of a piece. I guess the question that I have on that is how can a student ever write a research paper then? When we quote articles and books and interact with them, aren’t we looking for quotes that capture the essance of what the other author is trying to say? Isn’t it considered bad scholorship to NOT interact with the main point? But then how can we write research papers if we have to always wait a month or more to get premission to use “heart of the matter” quotes?

    The same question applies for me in sermon prepration. But further: am I allowed even to paraphrase (no “copying” at all) the main point of a book or article in a sermon, especially if that sermon is being taped or video recorded?

  2. Scott – you don’t say where you’re writing from but three points may be helpful.
    Firstly, copyright protects the expression of ideas (the actual words used) not the idea itself. So you’re free to use ideas from anywhere. That’s what scholarship, preaching and creativity is based on.
    Next, copyright legislation only protects works for a certain number of years following the creator’s death – the ground rules get complex depending on where the alleged infringement is taking place, and how long the author has been dead. But think seventy years back – and folks who died back then are fair game. If you’re in the US try here and in Canada.

    So feel free to quote John Donne or Cotton Mather.

    Finally, there are exemptions for fair dealing (Canada) and fair use (USA) which protect use of limited amounts of a copyrighted text. In Canada, the Copyright Act says that “fair dealing” with a work for purposes of private study or research, or for criticism, review or news reporting won’t infringe copyright. Good thing to credit sources, and don’t go overboard in quoting large amounts of someone else’s work.

    But large quotes in a sermon would put the congregation to sleep anyway.

    You can find out more from the Wales gang or from Washington.