Quoting dictionary definition in my book

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  • I've co-authored a book that's about to go to press. We've used several quotes of definitions from dictionary.com in the book. No one at dictionary.com will respond to my inquiries as to whether or not I need their written permission to use these quotes. For most of the words, I simply substituted other definitions from sources that WOULD respond. But one definition in particular, my co-author needs to use as defined at dictionary.com. SO . . .

    Is it okay to go with the dictionary.com definition as long as we cite them as our reference? OR are we asking for trouble?

    For the record - I waited over 8 months to hear back from another request for permission to quote (a book publishing firm). I finally FINALLY got through by phone, though it took an act of Congress to get their stupid phone number . . . only to have the person inform me that for such a short quotation, it's under Fair Use and I don't need their permission.

    This stuff drives me NUTS! Any help out there? Unfortunately I'm on deadline TODAY and need an answer ASAP!!
  • How long is your quote? If it's not that long I wouldn't worry and would just call it fair use. Besides, you've made a good faith effort to contact them.

    Your publisher usually tells you what their guidelines are as to how many words you can quote without permission, and it really varies according to how much your publisher is afraid of getting sued rather than by a case-by-case application of the four factors of fair use -- a very sad situation, but that's how it is. If yours is a work of scholarship or criticism, that gives you some good protection. And it's doubtful your work would have a negative impact on the specific market for Dictionary.com, if you are quoting from a variety of dictionaries.
  • Thanks for your response, Janet. The quote is only ten words long. Just a brief definition. I'd use another source's definition but this wording is unique and fits the author's point perfectly.

    Not sure if my publisher will risk it, but I'll put it in her court. Wouldn't you think sites like this would welcome the free advertisement? It's just a definition, it's not as if it's a controversial expose of their business! *sigh*

    Thanks again. I was so pleased to find this website after wasting an entire day looking for answers!
  • You're welcome! I think it's important for users to assert their Fair Use rights and not just automatically assume everything has to have permission and be paid for. That's not the way it works, but if we keep believing people who tell us it should be, our rights will erode away before we know it. I wish more publishers would take a tougher stance on behalf of their authors. Good luck to you!

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