Using text from Microsoft Manual of Style?

Subject: Using text from Microsoft Manual of Style?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Karen Casemier'" <karen -dot- casemier -at- provia -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 2000 12:22:53 -0400

Karen Casemier has a question <<...about the legality of using information
from the Microsoft Manual of Style in our own company style guide... We
would like to use some of the topics "as is". What is the legality of
this?>>

"Fair use" guidelines all make the assumption that you are providing
substantial intellectual input, not just quoting someone else's entire take
on a subject and providing a literature citation. For example, it's
perfectly valid to quote the key sentence or two of Microsoft's opinion on
"the serial comma" and compare it with that espoused in "Read Me First!"
(Sun's take on the matter) because you're providing your own input in the
form of commentary and comparison. Simply quoting the two would not likely
constitute fair use.

Various word counts or proportions of the total have been proposed as rules
of thumb for whether something constitutes fair use; none of these numbers
have any basis in fact (i.e., in the copyright legislation that I've read).
I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not up to date on the actual codified legalese any
more, but I've kept up on copyright in general and haven't seen anything
that makes me believe that copyright law now includes numeric guidelines on
how long a quote may be. (There are exceptions for music and--I
believe--poetry, but neither is likely to concern us here.)

Under these circumstances, republishing the information "as is" without
permission would seem to be a clear case of copyright infringement, and
you'd be well-advised to try one of the following alternatives: obtain
written permission from Microsoft (probably in the form of a signed legal
contract or license), rewrite their opinions in your own words, or if
Microsoft style [sic] forms a substantial component of your own style guide,
simply include a reference to the appropriate page in the Microsoft style
guide in your own guide. After all, you wouldn't repeat an entire unabridged
dictionary in your style manual, so why would you consider quoting chapter
and verse of Microsoft?

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Fictionary (fik' shun air ee) n. The word reference that engineers and
software developers use when they write documentation.--Kay Robart




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