Can I Use Facts From Articles and Newspapers in My Novel?

Question

I'm writing a book that deals with a long-running news story. I'm getting my facts from newspapers and magazines and turning the story into a novel, based on real events. Do I have to get the sources' permissions to use the facts? How do I give proper credit in the book to these sources?

Answer

Copyright law generally protects authors of original creative works, including books, plays, and articles, from unauthorized copying. However, copyright laws do not protect facts; they merely protect the particular way that an author expresses facts in a work such as a newspaper article, magazine, or book.

If you are taking the facts only from news stories and putting them into your own words as part of a novel, you don't need permission.

If, on the other hand, you are doing a substantial amount of verbatim or near-verbatim copying from news stories, that could implicate the author's exclusive rights. Indeed, the newspaper itself (or its publisher) may also have legal claims to the article. Depending on several factors such as the type of use, the amount you borrowed, and your financial gain, this may qualify as a fair use. More likely, the wholesale copying of multiple articles into your new book would be considered an infringement, unless you first obtain permission.

Authors of novels and other fictional works are not required to give credit to the sources of their inspiration, but you may certainly do so if you wish. It would be appropriate to do so in a caption, or in the acknowledgements section of your book. And remember that Golden Rule about "Doing Unto Others." If someone else took inspiration from you, you would like to be acknowledged, even when copyright law does not require it.

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