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Writing Books/copyright permission (non-fiction)


Hi Susan-

I am about to go to work on my first book, a biography on the legendary boxer Max Schmeling who just recently died at the age of 99! I have never written a book before but am being pushed by my wife to do this.

My question is this: I plan on doing as much research as possible on the internet. There are very few books about him, but there is an Autobiography he wrote some years ago. I would like to use that too. I will also try to find articles on/offline about the people he fought, his actress wife, his manager, and others.

Do I need "permission" to use online articles? Do i need "permission" to use his Autobiography and other books that i may come upon? I'm sure i will use quotes from time to time, but plan on incorporating it all into "my voice" so the direct quotes wont be that extensive.

Thank you so much for your help on this. I am very excited about getting this going. He was a great man, who saved the lives of others at the risk of personal peril (during the "Night of Broken Glass"), was incorrectly painted as a Nazi, and who touched the lives of all those who he knew.

His story should be told.


Hello Hugh:

You have chosen a most interesting character to write about!

Now, about your research concerns. According to the copyright law of 1967 (which has since then been amended in some of its particulars - you can find that on the net, also) once written material has been rendered into "corporeal" form (capable of being moved from place to place) it is automatically copyrighted by the author. The amendments mostly have to do with whether a disk drive qualifies as "corporeal."

That being said, you are entitled to use any material you come across, so long as you paraphrase it, which is what I believe you mean by "incorporating it into (your) voice" - or rather, into your own words.

You are allowed to use short quotes without permission - what constitutes "short" is apparently up for grabs. In one of my books I used a number of quotes from a certain book about England - no more than 5-6 lines. The book was not recent and I didn't even know if the author still lived or not, but years later, his son happened on my book and wrote to tell me his father was flattered to be quoted in my book. Everyone loves to be quoted. Just don't take this too far.

You should also keep in mind that FACTS CANNOT BE COPYRIGHTED. The autobiography may be full of dubious "facts" - if you can't verify them, it is better to quote and attribute to the author for the short pieces, and paraphrase and attribute to the author for the longer pieces.

You can research this on the net. A good site to start with is (You will have to cut and paste as this site does not support hyperlinks).

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 370 questions.

And good luck with your writing!  

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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