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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In my current project, I have a character who quotes a few lines of Chinese poetry, written by the poet Li Shang-Yin during the ninth century CE. I've found several contradictory rules. (In my book, I actually quote the author's name into the dialogue.)

Does anyone have any experience or know 100% what is legal to do without permissions and what is not? I've heard/read under 300 words, 3 lines, etc.. but where can I find a validated, steadfast policy?

http://janefriedman.com/2012/01/23/permissions/ Jane Friedman posts this:
When do you NOT need to seek permission?
•When the work is in public domain. This isn't a terribly easy thing to determine, but any work published before 1923 is in the public domain. Some works published after 1923 are also in the public domain. Read this guide from Stanford about how to determine if a work is in the public domain.
•When simply mentioning the title or author of a work. You do not need permission to mention the title of someone's work. It's like citing a fact.
•When you abide by fair use guidelines. If you're only quoting a few lines from a full-length book, you are likely within fair use guidelines, and do not need to seek permission. See more about fair use below.
•When the work is licensed under Creative Commons. If this is the case, you should see this prominently declared on the work itself as an alternative to the copyright symbol. For instance, the book Mediactive is licensed under Creative Commons, and so are many sites and blogs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/opinion/when-quoting-verse-one-must-be-terse.html?_r=0

If you think I need permissions, where would I start with a deceased author? His work is in LOTS of publications, meaning many publishers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
JeffreyKafer said:
9th Century? Looong in the public domain.
That's what I thought, too. But just trying to make sure I'm not reading something I 'want' to read. I'm having a permissions snafu with another project right now that is text from a fairy tale (not poetry), and because I'd read something online that was actually wrong, I'm jumping through hoops and may have to take it out of the book that is already in production---days from my publisher's deadline. So I'm just trying to cover my bases with the next few books. (I'm working on 3 books consecutively)
 

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As you quoted above, "...any work published before 1923 is in the public domain". I'm not a lawyer, but I'd bet you're safe on this one. :)
 

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Not a lawyer, but if you're quoting 9th century poetry, you are almost certainly completely safe. Just be careful that you're not quoting some (copyright) reinterpretation of it; you can tell the story of Hamlet, for example, but if you're going to retell it with singing talking lions in Africa, you're going to run into trouble.
 

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That's actually a really good point. Make sure the translation is not copyrighted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
JeffreyKafer said:
As you quoted above, "...any work published before 1923 is in the public domain". I'm not a lawyer, but I'd bet you're safe on this one. :)
Thanks.

And just for others reading this, maybe you can learn from my error. In the second example, my book that is days from production, my character is telling his children about an old Chinese legend. Only a few intermittent paragraphs are quoted, and the author is also named in dialogue, but I found out I could not use it without Penguin's permissions.

I filed for permissions online. Then because of the deadline I surfed until I found a few NY phone numbers and called until I found someone who has promised to look into it for me before the next five days. My publisher has already warned me that Penguin may come back with permissions to use it in 5,000 copies sold, then I'll have to re-apply. If they do that, my publisher has told me I'll have to cut that out of the book. And that legend is pivotal to the plot, so changes the next chapters. I've already spent some time (a whole freaking day) writing my own Chinese legend that can also fit in with the plot, and running it by beta readers. So now I wait and I'll be either sliding in my own fairy tale or keeping theirs and sending my book off the day before the deadline, which totally freaks me out.

So learn from my error. Permissions are a serious thing! And that is why I'm paranoid about the poetry. I 'thought' I was okay, just wanted to make sure someone else doesn't see a hole in my logic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
David Adams said:
Not a lawyer, but if you're quoting 9th century poetry, you are almost certainly completely safe. Just be careful that you're not quoting some (copyright) reinterpretation of it; you can tell the story of Hamlet, for example, but if you're going to retell it with singing talking lions in Africa, you're going to run into trouble.
Great point, David. I'll check that out for sure. Thanks.
 

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It sounds like you may have run into a TRADEMARK issue, which is a whole nuther sticky situation. For example, the John Carter original title "Queen of Mars" is in the public domain. Anyone can re-print it or make into an audiobook without a problem. But what you can't do is create a NEW John Carter novel without permission of the trademark holder. Trademarks have no expiration, so long as they are defended.

Again, not a lawyer.
 

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Dan C. Rinnert said:
The 1923 date applies to works first published in the United States. The rules can vary for works first published outside the United States, so some foreign works older than 1923 can still be protected by copyright both in the United States and abroad.
Not back to the 9th century, though. :)
 

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As I understand it is a 9th century Chinese poem originally written in Chinese. That would be PD. But the translation? I would think there would be an older translation so you could bypass Penguin. I'm sure there are British translations from the 19th century. Not a lawyer.

I would contact a Professor at a University that specializes in Chinese Lit. There are many.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
For the poetry, I've emailed the professor listed at the bottome of this translation:

http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/chinese_poetry_petals.html

But that poem is listed literally all over the place by many different translations into English. I fear I may be stepping into a mess by trying to use any of it.

:-[
 

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Hire someone to do a "new" translation for you. No one can claim a copyright on something that's yours.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Because of the complicated copyrights of so many versions of the poems translated from Mandarin to English, I decided to cut it from both books. I'm now working on replacing the lines with my own poetry.

This should be fun.

:-[
 

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Poetry and prose, wholly different.

I know you have to get permission from the publisher for 2 lines of poetry, because I had to, for a Dylan Thomas poem (2 years back).

I think it might even be one line for a song.

Last I heard, it was 50 words for prose (fair use).

And copyright lasts up to 70 years after death; specific rule varies from country to country, and also depends on when he/she died.
I can't guarantee that any of this is up to date.
 

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I used a quote from Shakespeare and another from Alfred, Lord Tennyson in my book, the latter which I looked up as being in the Public Domain because I know the direct quote from Shakespeare is in PD.  On the front page of the book, I give the Public Domain credit because it seemed like the right thing to do.  In matters of Fair Use, a character in my book describes a Charles M. Schulz comic strip simply as Charlie Brown and Lucy (with no mention of particular content), so I gave mention of Fair Use on the front page as well...just to be safe.

I agree that using any published interpretations of specific PD material would be risky.
 

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I'm surious, Kay, are you gonna use the block indent form, so it looks like a poem in the book, or are you gonna make it look like regular dialogue? One of my characters quotes a couple lines from Yeats, and I can't make up my mind which way to go with that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
vrabinec said:
I'm surious, Kay, are you gonna use the block indent form, so it looks like a poem in the book, or are you gonna make it look like regular dialogue? One of my characters quotes a couple lines from Yeats, and I can't make up my mind which way to go with that.
Good question. Mine has already been through a content editor and a copyeditor and they've left it as dialogue, with italics. See below:

The next morning Li Jin woke to find Sami fully dressed and waiting on the bed beside her. The girl sat cross-legged, staring serenely at Li Jin when she opened her eyes. It was a bit eerie, she had to admit. Then Sami spoke softly. "I'll wait forever, relentlessly searching, looking for your face so fair. One small touch, I reach for you and know I'm almost there."

Li Jin sat up and rubbed her eyes. She wasn't dreaming of home but then again, she'd never really had one to dream about. "That was nice, Sami. Did you write that?"

"No, it's by a poet who died trying to catch the reflection of the moon goddess in the lake waters."
 

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As Richardcrasta says, poetry and prose are very different when it comes to fair use.

If you quote a sentence from a 300-page prose book, it's a tiny fraction of the original work, so easy to claim fair use. But if you quote 2 lines of a 10-line poem, it's 20% of the original work, which is a lot!

So always err on the safe side when it comes to poetry (or song lyrics).

As others have said, this is irrelevant if you're quoting the original text of a 9th century poem, as it's long out of copyright. But if the translation is more recent, it may well be in copyright.

Have you tried searching for the poem on Project Gutenberg? http://www.gutenberg.org They have some classic Chinese literature, and if you find a translation on there it may well be licensed for the use you want - obviously check the licence terms.
 
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