Wait: You Can’t Do That with That Book!

Maybe you’ve been there: you’re teaching a workshop on mixed-media acrylic painting, and you need to spend a little time talking about color mixing. It’s something you’re comfortable with, but you don’t have a great visual to show. You could make a color wheel, but there’s a perfect one in this book you love, and it would be so, so much easier just to make copies of it to hand out to your students. You’d credit the author, of course, right there on the handout. It’s not like you’re trying to pass the color wheel off as your own. And you own the book, so you can do that, right?


Wrong. You can’t do that with that book. You may own a copy of that book, but you don’t own the copyright to the book. Not even the author owns the copyright; the publisher owns it, and to use any portion of the book, you’re going to need written permission from that publisher (unless you’re a reviewer and are quoting “a brief passage in review.”)


I’m thinking about this because I got an email last week from someone at a university trying to secure my permission for an instructor in the design department to use parts of Creative Time and Space as part of a course packet for students. They listed the pages they wanted to use: two dozen pages throughout the book. The form they sent had a place for me to give permission and fill in any fee I might charge for this. It was a first for me, and it seemed more than a little odd. I mean, if they found information in the book useful—and not just information on one or two pages, but on two dozen pages—then why not require the book as part of the course or order copies of the book for the students to check out? I checked with Tonia, my editor on the book, and got out the book and read the copyright information in fine print in the very front and found out that, no, even if I wanted to (which I did not), I couldn’t give someone permission to copy and use any part of the book. *I* couldn’t even copy it and hand it out to my own students. Once you sign the contract and send in the manuscript and it’s published, it’s not yours. This may seem harsh, but what it’s doing is protecting you from just the sort of thing about which I was contacted in the first place: people who want to use parts of what you’ve written but don’t want to pay for the book.


This is something I’d never really thought much about. Oh, sure: since I started writing for a living, I’ve been way more conscious of copyright than I was back in graduate school, where pretty much everyone copied chunks of library books for their own use and to use in the freshman comp classes we taught. Yeah, it makes me cringe now, but I’m glad I now understand the amount of work that goes into creating any book of any kind.


As a writer, I have found it reallyreallyreally useful to be able to tell people that I can’t give them permission to use something I’ve written and refer them to the publisher: when it’s someone you like and they want to use something you wrote that *they* like, it’s good to be able to refer them to someone else for that decision. (And often publishers are happy to grant permission for specific limited use.)


So when you wish you could copy part of your favorite book to use in teaching color theory or encaustic or collage, try not to grumble at the apparent pickiness that prevents you from doing that. Try to think of it as protection for the hard work we all value and want to support.


Creative time and spaceYou can check out Creative Time and Space (and get it at a fabulous discount!) here.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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