Book Summaries -- Are They Legal?

by James Liberty 21 replies
Does anyone happen to know if it is legal to write your own unique summary of a book... and then sell it or include it as a bonus product?

I know that "Cliffs Notes" does this, but I'm not sure if they need to get special permission in order to do it.

Anyone happen to know the rules on this?
#main internet marketing discussion forum #book #copyright #legal #summaries
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  • Profile picture of the author Ben Brentlinger
    I think you might need permission from the author to do that and even if they did give you permission to distribute a summary of their book, they would probably only let you give it away as an ebook on a squeeze page if you agree to use the summary to promote their book to the list that you build from it.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mac Wheeler
    Hi James,

    About three months back I was contacted by a potential client who wanted me to produce both a review and summary of two IM focused info products each week (which is kind of how I found my way to this forum, I was doing research).

    I expressed my concern over the sumarising of the eBooks, and the client went away to consult with his lawyers. What they came back with was that as long as you do not quote directly from the book, or copy any of the content, then writing a completely unique summary is not illegal.

    For example, the book might say:

    "Fried eggs taste better if you cook them in beer."

    You might say:

    "The author tell us that cooking fried eggs in beer will make them taste better".

    Hope this helps.
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  • Profile picture of the author Thomas
    There is a common factor in copyright law in ALL countries, with the exception of half-a-dozen or so (such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and others) who aren't party to various international agreements and it is this:

    Copyright law does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing anything. Copyright only protects how you describe these "things" but does not protect the "thing" itself.

    Therefore book summaries ARE legal (in almost every country on the planet) insofar as you describe, in your own words, the same "thing" being described by the book author in their own words. You do NOT need any persmission from the author or publisher because it has nothing to do with them.

    Tommy.
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  • Profile picture of the author DeenaEsq
    The answer to the question is yes. You can write summaries of other people's work. It's a fair use under copyright law. You have to follow the nominative fair use rules codified at 17 USC 107. For convenience, I'll post them here:

    "[T]he fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. "

    Hope that helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

    Deena
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    • Profile picture of the author myob
      You can make money by selling or giving away the summary of the book, with a link inside to your Amazon affiliate order page and related books. This is a very common marketing practice.
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    • Profile picture of the author Ricter
      Originally Posted by DeenaEsq View Post

      The answer to the question is yes. You can write summaries of other people's work. It's a fair use under copyright law. You have to follow the nominative fair use rules codified at 17 USC 107. For convenience, I'll post them here:

      "[T]he fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
      (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
      (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
      (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
      (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
      The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. "

      Hope that helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

      Deena...
      The purpose and character of the use around here is certainly of a commercial nature. How much weight does the "commercial nature" factor (amongst the others) have in determining copyright infringement?

      The effect of the use upon the potential (or actual) market will very likely be a dilution of profitability for the originator--it's not probable that someone else in the "circus ring" with you is strengthening your act. Possible, even desireable, but not probable.

      Will infringement activated by either or both of those forces ever be prosecuted on the typical small operation we see in, say, 80% of IM cases?
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  • Profile picture of the author DeenaEsq
    The most important factor is that the use of the work itself is nominative. Although commercial nature is important in determining whether a work is infringing, it's certainly not the only factor that is weighed.

    It is my understanding from what the OP is asking that he is intending to use the summaries as a bonus of his package, but that the summaries would point the purchasers at the original works. Alternatively, it could be read that he was intending to create commentary about the books while summarizing the principles therein. Either way, they could qualify as nominative fair use.

    Really the best suggestion, I suppose, is to make sure that a copyright attorney looks at the work before it's offered to customers...

    Deena
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