You are here:

Writing Books/Copyright cleances - what needs it?


QUESTION: I've written a time-travel novelette starring my grandkids and me traveling back to 1927 and interacting with Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Babe Ruth, staying at the Algonquin Hotel, using 'Northwest Airways' to travel. I researched many of the events and play-by-play from NY Times archives at the U of Minnesota to glean information about events but not quotes, other than citing the NY Times article as if reading the paper to see what's on the radio or playing at the movies on a day or time. At no time was anything unflattering said about them, just conversations.
Used 2 or three books to get information but not quoting or plagiarizing. I'd like to get it published, but have no idea if I need copyright clearances, other than citing sources as a good 'modeler' should to have a sense of reality about it. HELP!!

ANSWER: Nope, you're in the clear.  Nothing you mentioned requires any sort of copyright permissions... unless you actually quote the NY Times article verbatim.  (And why do that when you can simply paraphrase?)  Just be careful that your portrayals of historical figures is accurate!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks!! In your reply you said: Just be careful that your portrayals of historical figures is accurate!

They are as accurate as I can make them, nothing unflattering. All incidents are fictional (my and my grandkids interactions and conversations with them) meeting F. Scott in a speakeasy frequented by Parker on her invitation.....etc.

For atmosphere I quoted one line from a poem by Christopher Morely about Broad Street Station and 3 lines from Gershwin's song that was 'playing on the radio' in my story: 'Someone to Watch Over Me' and a whole stanza from 'Varsity Drag' - I assume those bits of songs need to get permission, but where would I go to get it - I looked at the copyrights and there were about 20 holders for the Gershwin song.

Can I just use the names of the songs without permission?

I used Charles 'Speed' Holman who was Operations Manager for Northwest Airways and a fictional Northwest Airways flight with a real aircraft number in 1927 to fly home on... Northwest Airways was the pre-1933 name for Northwest Airlines or NWA, Inc. - do I need their permission -(I also happen to be employed by NWA Inc at this time)?

Thanks in advance!   

This has been VERY helpful!

Quoting small sections of copyrighted material, including poetry and songs, would quite likely fall under the "fair use" copyright laws.  (I suggest you look that up.)  While there are no set "percentages" of material you can quote without having to pay for it, a line or three shouldn't pose a problem.  

Yes, you can name song titles.  (Titles cannot be copyrighted, anyway.)

As for the flight numbers of NWA flights, no...  No issues there.

Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

©2017 All rights reserved.