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Writing Books/Using quotes in books


QUESTION: Hello:  I am writing a book that occasionally references scenes from movies - and I need to insert quotes.  Example:

Kay Adams: How did he do that?
Michael: My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Kay Adams: What was that?
Michael: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.

My question:  Do I need permission from anybody to do this?  Is this a copyright issue in any way?  Thank you very much.  Larry

ANSWER: Hi, Larry!

Yes, this is a copyright issue, and yes, you would need permission to quote this the way you have it here.

That said, however, you can certainly insert popular culture references in a book as fair use. It just needs to be PARAPHRASED as dialogue between your characters. For example:

Bob: "Yeah, it's like that scene from that movie with Marlon Brando [or whatever actor played the role] where he tells the girl that his father made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He could either sign the contract or get his brains blown out. I think we have the same thing here."

Mary. "Oh . . . yeah. Ouch."

Readers are pretty smart. They'll recognize the scene and won't care that it's not exact wording. Half of the time, the READER won't remember the exact quote. If they do, you're paraphrasing, so no harm, no foul. :)

Hope that helps!  Good luck.


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QUESTION: Cathy:  Thank you very much.  I trust your expertise, but I have a source of confusion.  I have in my hand a book about movies that contains quite a few exact quotes; things like the whole Travis Bickle thing in Taxi Driver (You talkin' to me?).  The book is The Movies That Changed Us by Nick Clooney.  I also have other books on the shelf that contain direct quotes from films.  How do they get away with this?  Larry

Hi, again, Larry!

Sorry, I was under the impression you were writing a novel where quotes appeared. Non-fiction books *about* movies can fall into a different part of the fair use act. Is your books likewise non-fiction? Of course, it's quite possible that the books about movies on your shelf DID request and receive copyright permission. I'd suggest you read the requirements for fair use on the U.S. Copyright Office's webpage. They actually have a terrific FAQ page and it would be worth answering your question at the source.

Hope that helps! :)


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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