Fair Use of Copyright Material – What Can You Use in Your Book?

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you’re probably quoting other people’s work in your material. Or you’ve used other people’s work as a reference. In many cases, you’re probably interviewing people. Maybe on podcasts or over the phone to create content from that. So, what is considered fair use of copyrighted material, and what requires permission? And what is just outright not okay?

Criticism, New Reporting, Teaching, and Research

Fair use is covered under US copyright law. It says that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, new reporting, teaching, and research. In those cases, you do not need to secure permission from the creator or copyright holder.

Fair use protects negative and positive comments and discussion. As an author, we will often refer to other books or works by others because something they wrote or created inspired us, and we want to refer to it or build upon it. That is fair use. But, keep in mind the word brief.

There’s no word limit. It comes down to the amount of material used must be reasonable given that purpose. In other words, it’s a judgment call.

US copyright law does not require attribution, but how would you feel if someone quoted your words or references your work, but didn’t give you credit? So give your fellow authors a shout out!

Fair Use of Copyright Material to Support Your Point

What about to support your point, which is how a lot of us authors will use copyrighted material? Fair use applies when copyrighted material is being used to illustrate, support, or prove an argument or point. But again, there are some limitations as to what this can cover.

You can’t use someone else’s work for decorative purposes. As it pertains to the body of your book work, you’ll need permission to use copyright material for anything but to support your argument, period. It can entertain while supporting your argument, but it’s not just to be for entertainment. It’s also subject to that reasonable amount of reproduction test.

What about charts and graphs?

One fun fact covered in the Fair Use Guide by the Author’s Alliance is about charts and graphs.

Charts, graphs, and tables may be protected by copyright, but the underlying facts are not copyrightable. My interpretation (I’m not a lawyer) is that you can’t copy someone else’s chart or graph and reprint it without permission. But, you can create your own with the facts given.

Creative choices in the way those facts are presented in a chart or graph might be original enough to warrant copyright protection of your own.

For more copyright protection for your book visit this article.

It’s important to note, copyright does not protect ideas, processes, facts, systems, principles, or discoveries. Copyright protects only the expression contained in work.

So I think the only question that remains here is what do you do if you want to use someone else’s work and it doesn’t fall under fair use? I think the answer is one of three choices:

  1. You can ask them for permission,
  2. Look for other works that can be used under certain licenses of use,
  3. Or find material that’s no longer covered by copyright or the copyright expired.

Or, something I often encourage Book Launchers clients to do is to just make up something awesome of your own. Why quote someone else’s research or brilliant ideas, when you can quote your work?

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Three Quick Tips to Make Your Non Fiction Book More Marketable

You already know you need a great front and back cover to sell your book. It’s obvious that your book needs a fantastic title. And, of course, you’ve written a compelling book people want to read right now. But, there are three other things that will help make your nonfiction book more marketable.

Number one, when you’re writing your book, create four to eight pieces of content that stand alone.

This is content that is inside your book, but could be pulled out of your book and people would still get value from it. Think sidebars or boxed content.

Check out this great example from

The content in these items could be used as blog posts, news articles or other stand alone content that promotes your book. So start thinking about the eight ways to make your biceps bulge, the five things you need to know about sex after 60, or how to sell your business for seven figures checklist. Those kind of lists make fantastic standalone content that media will eat up.

When you’re deciding what content you should put in a box or a sidebar of your book, just think about what will create intrigue and interest the most. Remember, the goal of this material is to be excellent stand alone content that will make people want to check out what else is in your book. Put some of your best tips in these boxes!

Plus, when people skim your book, they will often glance at this material to decide whether to buy your book so it can also sell your book to potential readers that way.

Number two, prepare a really compelling answer to these questions:

  1. What made you write your book?
  2. And, Who is this book for?

You will be asked these questions all the time. If you can get a really succinct answer that makes people wonder what’s inside that book then you’re going to have a fantastic promotional piece for your book.

Now, a little tip from my writing coach (who is the chief writing coach at Book Launchers). He says, if you can help people become more beautiful, lose weight, get rich or become famous then that’s going to sell. So if your book does one or all of those things, make sure you include it in your answer.

Number three, design your Table of Contents to sell your book.

Of course a great book title is important but each of your chapter titles acts as a salesman for your book.

Keep this in mind when you’re naming your chapters. Every single chapter title needs to sell your book and create curiosity. Spend a lot of time on these little salesmen. During 95%+ of the media interviews you’ll do to promote your book you’ll discover that the interviewer didn’t read your book. At most, they’ve opened your book to the table of contents and skimmed your chapters and subtitles. Expect questions about those if they are interesting enough!

My first book, More Than Cashflow, had one chapter called Where Are the Ladies? Who knew but a lot of media loved that chapter title.  My second book had a chapter called You Are Who Google Says You Are. That created so much interest I was asked to speak on the subject. I ended up creating a talk that I gave in multiple locations across Canada. That was great promotion for my book and my business!

So make sure those chapter titles sell your book for you.