How many words could I quote and not infringe copyright?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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keith_12345
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How many words could I quote and not infringe copyright?

Post by keith_12345 » Sun Feb 12, 2017 1:07 pm

What's the maximum number of words I can quote without infringing copyright? If I include ellipses and cut out words, could the number be different?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Sun Feb 12, 2017 3:29 pm

Hi keith,

If only it was that simple. I assume that you are referring to the quotation exception which comes within the fair dealing group of exceptions. The yardstick is 'no more than is strictly necessary'. However that is a fairly open-ended standard. So, yes, the use of ellipses and judicious editing would be sensible if only so that your readers do not have to read through lots of irrelevant stuff to get to the point you want to get across. The emphasis is on the word 'fair'.

However if you think you may have to use rather more than a 'fair' portion of another work, don't forget you can always contact the publisher or author to ask for permission to quote the extract you wish to use. Ordinarily this would not require a fee to be paid, just an acknowledgement that permission had been given.
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keith_12345
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Post by keith_12345 » Sat Feb 18, 2017 2:57 pm

How many words could I quote with it not even bring fair use, and just using such a small amount that isn't copyrighted?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Sun Feb 19, 2017 3:20 pm

Hi Keith,

There seems to be something of a theme to all your questions which, to put it bluntly, seems to be how much you can effectively copy someone else's work without actually being accused of copying. As I have mentioned, there is no hard and fast rule such as 'less than x is OK, more than x is infringing'. What copyright protects is the expression of the idea, not the idea. Therefore if you want to express the same idea you should use your own words and avoid quoting. Obviously there are only so many ways of saying something differently, especially if precision is required, and so there is always some latitude where, for instance, you are limited to the same technical words to refer to the underlying idea you wish to discuss. Equally if the underlying idea is utterly banal - say you were writing fiction and wished to convey everyday speech - then again the amount of commonality between your work and the one you are trying to avoid copying may, of necessity, be greater.

But really it boils down to why you want to copy someone else's work. If you are being lazy then you are far more likely to inadvertently copy more than is reasonable. However if you truly have your own ideas about a subject, perhaps based on a number of sources, then just write in your own style and you will find that your work has the necessary originality to mean it is isn't infringing.

For a good example of a case where someone came unstuck when trying to use someone else's idea, and just tweaking a few things to make it look as if he wasn't copying the expression of the idea, take a look at the so-called Red Bus case. It's not a decision I agree with for various reasons, but nonetheless it shows how the courts analyse all the components of a claim to assess whether or not infringement has occurred.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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