Re: right to quote personal letters from others

Subject: Re: right to quote personal letters from others
From: "Michael A. Lewis" <lewism -at- BRANDLE -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 1997 09:44:03 +1000

Mark Halpern wrote:
> Colleagues,
> I have a legal question that I hope is close enough to copyediting
> concerns to warrant posting here.
> I want to write an article, for publication in some commercial
> journal, that will include extensive quotations from letters I have
> received. I have a vague idea that I am entitled, on the principle of
> "fair comment" or something similar, to quote some amount of such
> letters, without special permission from their authors. But I have no
> idea of how much I may quote this way, or indeed if that principle
> applies at all to the kind of use I intend to make of these letters.

I'm also not sure whether Eric will regard this as suitable for the
list, but I think technical communicators do occasionally need to quote
or reference other sources, so here goes.

I'm not aware of any clear rulings or conventions about "how much" you
may quote. In academic writing, it's appropriate to quote a sentence or
two, or paraphrase the gist of an entire document, with the
acknowledgement of the author's name and the phrase "personal
communication". That's part of the normal flow and interchange of ideas,
and it works if the publication is a scholarly journal or book.

However, you speak (write) of a "commercial journal". What, precisely,
is that? Is it a magazine sold on newsstands, or a semi-scholarly
journal sold by subscription? If the latter, the academic convention
should be OK; if the former, then I think you need permission from the
Michael Lewis
Brandle Pty Limited
PO Box 1249
Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012

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