including literary excerpts for translation in a language book

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  • I am writing a book that teaches written French to English-speaking graduate students for their research purposes. To enliven the book, I am including several passages--between 200 - 500 words--from works in French--literary works, theoretical works,etc., some of which are in the public domain, some of which are not. The purposes of these passages is for students to gain practice translating French passages of the type they may actually encounter in their studies, as well as to introduce them to a variety contemporary French authors. Do such passages fall within the boundaries of fair use? (my publisher thinks they do). At what length (I have one quotation that is 800 words) would a passage NOT fall within the boundaries of fair use? The book itself is about 50,000 words long. Thank you very much for your assistance!
  • It sounds like you are asking whether you may include excerpts of some copyrighted works in your book under the provisions of Fair Use (Section 107 of Title 17, the US Copyright Act). Contrary to popular belief, the Fair Use section of copyright law does not specify a numeric limit or other cutoff. Rather, it requires that the user of the copyrighted material evaluate whether the usage is fair and reasonable, based on four factors:
    (1) nature of your work (whether your book is for-profit vs. non-profit would be a significant detail here)
    (2) nature of the work being used
    (3) portion of the work being used and its substantiality relative to the entire work
    (4) effect on the market for the work being used

    When I teach about Fair Use at my campus, I encourage folks to use the handy Fair Use Checklist ( developed by Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office to guide the four-factor evaluation process.

    Also, it is important to keep in mind that Fair Use does not apply in "batch mode," meaning that an evaluation would be needed for each and every passage you are planning to excerpt.
  • Your publisher may use internal guidelines about when they want an author to request permission. It will all depend on how risk-adverse your publisher is. I've had some publishers require me to ask for permission for as little as 250 words, and others consider everything I use to be fair use as scholarship.

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