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Copyright Infringement, Children's Book Writing Programs, Chapter Length, Manuscript Format

The Purple Crayon Blog for October 2005

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Questions about Copyright Infringement on the Internet

Some background: This is from a discussion that ensued when someone copied the entire text of an article and posted it on an Internet bulletin board. I think the following questions and my responses provide some guidance in the personal use of copyrighted material, particularly in the context of the Internet.

Thanks for all your help on the copyright stuff. I did read all you had to say, but it left me with questions that you did not cover.

Years ago, my mother used to take the our local newspapers, clip articles she thought would be of interest to me, and she snail-mailed them to me because I lived out of state and would not, otherwise, have seen them. She always wrote where she got the article from if for some reason the name of the source wasn't on the physical article she clipped. Is THAT copyright infringement? I DO have a reason for asking this, so please bear with me...

Once you buy a newspaper or magazine or book you can do what you want to it, physically. If she had made photocopies and handed them out to people, that might have been infringement, but one that never would have been prosecuted. But if she had made photocopies of the articles, and SOLD them, then she could have been in trouble.

Copyright is a PUBLISHING right. Personal use of copyrighted material is fairly unrestricted. It's when you start distributing multiple copies, or, even worse, selling copies, that you are violating copyright.

When I am on the Internet and go to Yahoo and see a news story such as the ones I posted on the Boards, and they have right on there....all these choices, one of which is "Email story to a friend" (which I never do since Yahoo collects data that way on e-mail addresses and such)... in my mind, I liken this to what my mother did with the newspaper articles. In this instance, where they specifically mention that you can e-mail it to a friend...is THIS copyright infringement?

You can email it, if you use the Yahoo email it option. Then if anyone is infringing, it would be Yahoo or whoever is displaying the article. But they almost certainly have a licensing agreement with the news source, which specfically allows them not only to display the article on their site, but to allow their users to email copies of it.

So it's probably not infringement, because they probably have permission. If they didn't have permission, it would be. But it would be Yahoo's infringement.

Now say I go to somebody's website and they post poems from another author WITH permission from that author...I am assuming that I would have to write to the web host and ask if I could have permission to copy the other author's poem from their website...correct? (This is assuming that the poetry author is dead or otherwise unable to be contacted). That being said.... and I have the host's permission (but perhaps not the author's directly because I wouldn't know how to contact them)... couldn't I use the ENTIRE poem under those circumstances?

It's unlikely that the web site that is using the poem by permission would have the right to (in effect) sub-license that permission to someone else. If you wanted to use the entire poem, you would need to get permission from the poet, or their estate, or whoever actually CONTROLS the copyright.

You could ask the web site where you saw the poem who to contact for permission to use it. If it wasn't them, they might well just tell you who you get permission from.

When I copy and paste something from the Internet, whether it be a news story or just an inspirational story, I am sending it to others without getting paid for sharing it...I just share it as if it were a newspaper clipping like my mother did.

It's different from the newspaper clipping. The problem with posting an article on a board is that you are, in effect, re-publishing it. Emailing a single copy to a friend is OK, though technically you should do it the way you are asked to do. Yes, you are giving out personal information, but in a way that's the price Yahoo is asking you to pay. If you don't want to pay that price, there is always a simple solution--send people the URL.

Those boards are a large and private forum. People have to belong to the organization to post messages there. So you would potentially expose it to some liability if you post articles there--Reuters could come along and say, "320 people viewed this thread, and we charge a per-use fee of $1, and we are seeking triple damages for willful infringment, so please pay us $1,000." That's not likely to happen, but it could.

I make a habit of sending people the URL of articles I think they should read, whether I'm sending the message to one person or posting on a listserv, and I suggest that that is the easy solution to this issue.

Can you please respond to me whether some of this is infringement or not in your opinion, and why.

I hope the above answers your questions.

Institute of Children's Literature or an MFA Program?

I wondered if you could post or blog something on the low residency MFA programs in Writing Children's Literature. I know there's probably two of them in Vermont and Kentucky. There are other programs like at Seton Hill where students can specialize in Children's Lit. Since these programs cost a considerable amount, do you find that children's writers from these places enjoy more success than, say maybe, graduates from the Institute of Children's Literature? I just wondered if the programs were cost effective and if participating in an MFA program would push me towards successfully publishing or if the Institute was a better option. The cost would be the difference of about $45,000 (over three years) with the MFA vs. $700 (over a couple of years) with the Institute.

I wish I had time to do the research this would require, but I don't. I did recently post a link to a new low-residency program in this installment of my blog.

I know that Vermont College has a low-residency MFA program, and it has a good reputation. But I don't have much personal knowledge of such programs. If you research them, and find out more, I'd love to post your findings on my site!

Regarding the difference between ICL and an MFA generally: well, they aren't the same thing at all. The ICL program teaches the basics, but from what I know of it and the Vermont College MFA program, is not going to challenge you to the extent that a good MFA program will. It's not meant to. Neither one will necessarily get you published, since how you develop is at least partly up to you, but the MFA program may push you farther, and will also be seen as a more meaningful qualification by the publishing world. But even if you did get the MFA, and even if it did open a few doors, you'd still have to produce a manuscript that at least one editor thought was publishable.

I'm sorry not to give a straightforward answer. I don't think there is one in this case.

How Long Should a Chapter in a Novel Be?

I am a beginning writer and I have been using your site frequently to help me answer some of my questions. I just recently purchased your book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Book Publishing.

I have a question. I am in the middle of writing a chapter book and I don't know how long a chapter should be in the eyes of the publishing world. The story is in the same order as The Chronicles of Narnia series. Is there a set length for a chapter typed in a word document? I don't want to cram too much into one chapter, but I'm afraid that I'm cutting the story off just so I can begin a new chapter. Can you help me? I would really appreciate your help a lot. Thanks for all you do in helping writers like me get our footholds.

Thanks for your message. There's no set length for a chapter, though as a rule of thumb, the longer the book (and older the reader) the longer the chapter can be. Also, a chapter should be the length it is for a reason--it covers an entire episode in the story, or you want it to end with a cliffhanger, or whatever the reason is.

If I were you, I'd get several books that seem like the one you want to write and analyze what the authors do. How long are the chapters in each book, on average? How long is the longest? The shortest? Why was the long one so long, and the short one so short? How does the author use a chapter? Compare what the authors do with chapters from book to book. Do they do the same kind of thing, or are there differences?

You can probably find more guidance on this in a book about writing by a novelist, which you might find listed in my Resources Guide, but that should get you started.

To Staple or Not to Staple, and Other Manuscript Format Issues

Should I staple a manuscript or not? I've heard that some editors don't like manuscripts to be stapled, but then how do I keep the manuscript together?

My main advice in this area is: don't obsess over details! I get a lot of questions about manuscript format at The Purple Crayon and at conferences, and the fact is that if an editor likes your manuscript they won't CARE if you've stapled when you shouldn't have stapled or vice versa.

Just get the basics right, because if your manuscript doesn't look minimally professional then it might not be read:

It's also a generally good idea to include a SASE and put your address on your manuscript as well as your cover letter.

And that's it. It doesn't need a binder, you could staple or paperclip it or not....

There's more about this and related issues in articles such as Manuscript Format Basics, or in my Idiot's Guide, which has entire chapters on submissions basics, but the above is what you really need to know.

And on the other hand, the day after I posted this, I got a comment from Jan Fields, moderator of the Children's Writers group on Yahoo and proprietor of Kid Magazine Writers. I'll let this be the last word on the subject:

I enjoyed your blog (I always do) but I do question the staple thing. I have heard editors and agents both fly into pet peeve rants at conferences about how much they HATE staples. HATE THEM. One editor said something along the lines of... if you want to give me a reason not to even read it, go ahead and staple. While I have never heard one rant about a hatred of paper clips. Personally, since it's not time efficient to memorize which folks hate staples, which ones find them passing annoying, and which really don't care and think it's a weird thing to obsess over -- I really think it's worthwhile to just say: Don't use staples.

Yeah, if your picture book/magazine story/article is outstanding, they'll get over the staple thing, but if they are on the fence...I really think it's worth a paper clip to avoid giving them something to disapprove of. I figure it's like having typos on the first page -- a fantastic manuscript will survive that -- but why should it when it's easy to avoid?

This installment is based on emails I sent over the summer in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2005 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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