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“Fair Use” Explained in Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts

When you find information in a book, article, or online source and you want to quote or paraphrase it in your genealogy, when must you cite the source? If you quote the information and cite the source, can you use as much of the information as you want? The answers to these questions fall under the copyright principle of “fair use.”

According to “The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook,” by Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C. Schechter, “Fair use is a privilege. It permits authors, scholars, researchers, and educators to borrow small portions of a copyrighted work for socially productive purposes without asking permission or paying a fee.”

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack addresses these and other concerns of fair use in her book, Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Primer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers. According to Ms. Carmack, U.S. copyright law weighs four factors in determining fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use. Is it for commercial or non-commercial purposes?
  2. The nature of the work. You can quote less from a song than from a novel.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used. You shouldn’t reveal that “the butler did it” if you are quoting from a new mystery book.
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market, that is, its economic value.

While the guidelines of fair use are applied uniformly, as Ms. Carmack demonstrates, “the devil is in the details.” For example, while it is generally sufficient to cite the source you use, in some cases you must actually request the permission of the copyright holder. Similarly, even though a work may be in the public domain (e.g. the papers of George Washington), if the originals are owned by an institution or an individual, you may need to obtain permission and/or to pay a royalty fee before you can refer to the work in your family history.

Fortunately, you can learn a lot more about the nuances of fair use and other important aspects of copyright law–especially as they impinge on the genealogist–in Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Primer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers

In scarcely 100 pages, Carmack’s Guide informs its readers about all aspects of copyright law. Each chapter lays out a specific principle of copyright or contracts and then addresses the topic with situations specifically applicable to genealogists. Subjects covered in this fashion include: (1) Copyright Basics, (2) Fair Use, the Public Domain, and Seeking Permissions, (3) Illustrations, Images, Photographs, and Maps, (4) Works for Hire, (5) Collaboration Agreements, (6) Journals/Magazine Contracts, (7) Book Contracts, (8) Electronic Contracts, and (9) Self-Publication Contracts. The author also provides an extremely useful glossary of terms found in contracts and matters of copyright. Rounding out the volume are an up-to-date bibliography, a resource directory of websites, links, and online articles, and an index to the book’s contents.

Vetted by copyright attorney Karen Kreider Gaunt, Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Primer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers is the first comprehensive guide of its kind written expressly for genealogists. Available today at Genealogical.com, it is the only book on copyright you are ever likely to need. Order your copy today!

Check out these other fine titles from distinguished genealogist Sharon Carmack:

Genealogy at a Glance: American Cemetery Research
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $9.95
eBook Price: $5.95
Locality: United States
Subject: Getting Started,Cemetery Records
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

Genealogy at a Glance: Ellis Island Research
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $9.95
eBook Price: $5.95
Locality: United States
Subject: Getting Started,Immigration
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books;19th Century;Early 20th Century

Genealogy at a Glance: Finding Female Ancestors
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $9.95
eBook Price: $5.95
Locality: United States
Subject: Getting Started,Female Genealogy
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

Genealogy at a Glance: Immigration Research
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, CG
Print price: $9.95
eBook Price: $5.95
Locality: United States
Subject: Getting Started,Immigration
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

Genealogy at a Glance: Italian Genealogy Research
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $9.95
eBook Price: $5.95
Locality: World-Italy/Italian
Subject: Getting Started
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

Italian-American Family History
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $22.50
Locality: World-Italy/Italian,United States
Subject: General Reference
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

You Can Write Your Family History
Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Print price: $24.50
Subject: Getting Started,Family Histories
Time Frame: Current: Guides and How-to Books

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