Monday, November 28, 2011
Call me Permission-Seeker Agonistes!
I have spent the last two days struggling with this permissions thing and I thought I would share some of my struggles with everybody, since I might not be the only person who doesn't know what he or she is doing when it comes to getting permission to publish quotations from somebody else's work.
First-off, a couple of things that I've learned and a couple of the sources I've learned them from: Any work published prior to January 1, 1923, is in the public domain. I learned this from Wikisource. If you look an author up in Wikipedia, often they will refer you to Wikisource in a small link near the bottom of the page. Another method is to look him or her up in Google Books. If the book is a free eBook and you can search the entire text, it's in the public domain. That's a good place to start.
"The Termite Queen" has 86 chapters with epigraphs (many authors are duplicated, thank goodness), and 16 of the authors are in the public domain (next time I use epigraphs, I think I'll take 'em all from Shakespeare!) Another source where everything is in the public domain is Bartleby.com. However, they make a big to-do about citations and permissions and what not, so I simply sent them an email and easily got their permission to use some of their material as long as I cite Bartleby.com, so that took care of another 3 authors and 5 chapters.
Then come the authors who are older but who published both before and after 1923. Tagore's "Crescent Moon" and Conrad Aiken's "Senlin" are pre-1923, so they are public domain; that took care of four more chapters.
Then there are authors like Homer and Virgil and works like "Beowulf" and "The Seafarer" where obviously the original work is public domain, but the version or translation is under copyright by the editor or translator. I suggest in those cases to find a translation that dates before 1923. My problem is, I can't do that with the Beowulf. I just love Seamus Heaney's translation! I was having problems finding who administers the copyright, so I checked out a couple of early translations, and god, are they awful! If I were to substitute those versions on the two chapters where I use Beowulf, it wouldn't even reflect what was in the chapter! So I will persist with Heaney! My book (and Ki'shto'ba) deserve his wonderful poetry!
Then come the authors who are entirely under copyright. Groan! First you have to figure out who owns the copyright. I find that can usually be done by simply Googling "Who owns the copyright on [such-and-such an author]?" Then you have to fill out forms or write emails, and then you wait maybe up to 8 or 10 weeks for a response (that's why I wanted to get started on this).
And then there is the matter of fair use. Some sources say epigraphs are included in fair use, and yet some publishers don't allow epigraphs to be fair use. Personally, I can't see why any author would mind being quoted, with proper attribution, as an epigraph - it's free advertising! Somebody might read that poem or selection and think, wow, I like that poet - I'm going to buy his works!
Now, the latest problem I've discovered is where the author is copyrighted. For example, I wrote to Dylan Thomas's copyright holder in the UK, David Higham, and I must say, I got the nicest answer in about one day - concerned, helpful, polite ... if I was in Britain, I'd want to publish with them! From her I learned that if I'm publishing in the United States, I have to go to New Directions, Thomas' American publisher. I also have to know if CreateSpace is considered just a USA publisher or an international publisher (they do distribute globally), so I have a question in to CS to try to find out. The person at Higham said they hold the Thomas copyright for the rest of the world. (And Higham doesn't consider epigraphs to be fair use.)
Anyway, I think I'll stop there. I have reduced the process to a hard core of authors, and I do mean hard. But I will persist and prevail. Dylan Thomas is important, but Robert Graves is the most significant author I quote from, and I haven't even started on him yet!
I may have to post another picture of myself - after I've pulled out all my hair!