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The Absolutely Literate blog is for people interested in writing, editing, design, history and family history.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Song Lyrics and Copyright

So you are writing your novel or family memoir and you want to include the lyrics from the song played at your grandmother’s wedding or the songs from an opera that or that dance at the prom. Can you include the lyrics without infringing copyright? Can you name your book after a favourite song without infringing copyright?

Do you need to ask permission? 

The first thing to remember is that crediting or citing the source only protects you from being accused of plagiarism, it does not remove the obligation to seek permission for use.

Is the work in the public domain? 

Public domain means that there are no copyright or other legal restrictions.

According to the United States Copyright Office “for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.” Additionally, according to a guide by Stanford, works published in the United States before 1923 are also in the public domain.

In Canada “copyright lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, plus 50 years following the end of that calendar year.” Refer to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for more information.

Say you want to use Etta James’ song “At Last.” It was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. Gordon died in 1959 so 1959+70 = 2029. Not in the public domain. 
Photograph shows interior view of hall with piles of copyright deposit materials on the floor in the Thomas Jefferson Building. circa 1898. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Does fair use/fair dealing apply? 

In the United States you are allowed to quote a few lines from a full-length book, without seeking permission IF, here is the big IF, your use is for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.”

Does your novel or memoir fall into those categories? No.

In Canada, the similar law is called fair dealing: Use of works for purposes of private study, research, criticism, review or news reporting that does not constitute infringement of copyright.

Does your novel or memoir fall into those categories? No.

Can I call my book "At Last"?

If you want to refer to the name of a song in your writing that is ok as titles are considered facts.
However using the title as part of the title of your book would be capitalize on the popularity of the song and could be considered a copyright infringement.


I am not a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice.

Further Reading

So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics
Jane Friedman: When Do You Need to Secure Permissions?
Brad Frazer: Is It Fair Use? 7 Questions to Ask Before Using Copyrighted Material
Pat McNees: Copyright, work for hire, and other rights issues
Hippy days of the internet are over


Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Search records of registered books, music, art, and periodicals, and other works. Includes copyright ownership documents. US Copyright Office

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hippy days of the internet are over

“I found the picture on the internet so it is in the public domain.”

This is probably the most common thing I hear as an editor and it is incorrect. The hippy, free-love days of the internet are long over (if they ever existed). Using an image from the internet without seeking permission is really no different than stealing it off the wall at the photographer's exhibit.

The first thing to remember is that the author of the website or blog may have asked permission to use the image on their site. The second thing to remember is that many people are using images without proper permissions. The CEO of PicScout, a global leader in image tracking, stated in 2011 that over 85% of images used online are subject of copyright infringement.

At its core copyright is easy, either you took a picture and then it belongs to you or you didn’t take the picture and then you need to ask permission to use it. Of course, there are exceptions.
  • Does your photo contain an object protected by copyright?
  • Is there a trademarked item in your photo? 
  • Are you using a photo of a person for commercial benefit? 
For example, on your world travels you took numerous pictures that you now plan to use in your upcoming book. The picture you have chosen for the cover includes a sculpture by an artist that is still living. You have to consider that the sculpture is protected by copyright and seek the permission of the artist.

Similarly, your cover photo has a corporate logo featured prominently; you could be suggesting that the corporation endorses your project or is somehow affiliated.

You have a photo of your friends skiing that you want to use as the cover image. Suddenly, your friends have become models and their permission must be requested. People have a right to profit, and exclude someone else from profiting on their photograph or likeness.

Remember, you have not violated copyright by taking the picture but you could violate copyright if you publish the picture.

“But I am not making money from my blog, book, etc.” Copyright is violated by using information not by profiting from it.

More copyright thoughts to come in future posts.


Are Getty Images Suing You?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sneak Peak at the Fall issue of British Columbia History

The Fall issue of British Columbia History is at the printers and will be making its way to mailboxes and bookstores in September; here is a sneak peak at the contents.

Subscribe now.


Our Neon Nightmare

by Katherine Hill
Each year, the British Columbia Historical Federation offers two W. Kaye Lamb Scholarships for student essays relating to the history of British Columbia. Katherine Hill is the winner of the $1000 prize for a student in 3rd or 4th year university or college in British Columbia.

Alexander’s Ashes

by Peter Broznitsky
A report of unclaimed ashes leads to unexpected connections and the unfolding story of a Russian-Canadian First World War veteran.

Almost a Crystal Palace

by Robert Ratcliffe Taylor
A shimmering, architectural tower in the middle of the countryside, the Willows exhibition hall at Victoria, BC 1891-1907, captured the confidence of an era.

One-Eye Lake Plane Crash

by Sterling Haynes
A day off for a kinda green GP in Williams Lake in August 1961 turned into a flight without a map to the scene of a plane crash.

The Viaduct that Saved Commercial Drive

by Jak King
The story of Charles Smith and the First Avenue Viaduct is the creation story of the Drive, a story without which East Vancouver’s history would have been markedly different.

Greenwood, BC: Arrival of Nikkei Photo Essay

by Jacqueline Gresko, images courtesy Alice Glanville
In April 1942 1200 Japanese Canadians (Nikkei) were required to abandon their coastal lifestyles and were interned in Greenwood, BC, northwest of Grand Forks.


Archives & Archivists

by Hugh Ellenwood; edited by Sylvia Stopforth
Take a glimpse into the history and people of the Discovery Islands through the Museum at Campbell River’s new online resource.

Cabinets of Curiosities

by Paul Ferguson
A concern for preservation of the originals and a desire from genealogists for digital access led to the newspaper digitization project at the White Rock Museum & Archives.

Every Month

Editor’s Note

Inside British Columbia History

From the Book Review Editor’s Desk

K. Jane Watt
Walking In History

Friday, August 9, 2013

Country Fairs and Headstones

My daughter's Country Fest entries.
In July my whole family entered items in our local fair. Growing up in Chilliwack my brothers and I entered various items every year in the local fair but this was a new experience for my husband and daughter. My daughter entered her pom-pom pigs, LEGO, and a painting. My husband entered some of his photographs. I entered a crocheted hat and a watercolour painting. It was a great experience, not just because we all placed, but it is inspiring to see the other entries. There was an amazing crocheted octopus, some beautiful quilts, and TARDIS cookies. There are a lot of talented people in the community. We also had the chance to see all the 4H animals, including a happy pig that escaped his pen, watch skating, skateboarding, and eat mini-donuts. What more could you want for a family outing?

In my own life, the concept of community has evolved to include online communities. I am part of two writer groups and it is wonderful to see how authors support each other by sharing news about new books and articles. I enjoy going to book launches and author readings to support authors in person. It is always lovely to be with kindred spirits. I will put a plug in here for Janice Brown, a member of my writer group, who just published Someday House: The Life and Passions of Aggie O'Hara. The same kind of support is evident in the history world though many organizations are finding the transition to the online world a challenge.

Tomorrow, we are taking part in a very physical historical activity – a headstone cleaning project with our local museum. I have been co-editing the Maple Ridge Family History newsletter for many years now and it is very rewarding when people comment that the information in the newsletter helped them add a branch to their tree.

I encourage you to get involved in your community. If you are a savvy social media person you could consider offering those skills to your local history group. If you are an author, attend book launches and author talks. If you are an organizer I am sure there is a group that strikes a cord with you that needs files organized or events planned. We all have talents we can share with our communities, both physical and virtual; it is great fun and a wonderful way to make friends and create roots in your local community.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Growing your Thesis

I am an organic writer, or so I was told by an English professor, ages ago at university. I remember going to meet with her about my essay and I was terrified that I did not have an answer for what I thought would be the key question “what is your thesis statement?” I no longer remember the specifics of the essay, but I remember telling her that I wanted to explore the themes in one of the Sam Shepard plays we were studying and I am pretty sure there was some reference to a lyric from a Spirit of the West song and Norman Rockwell. At any rate I remember her saying that she too was an organic writer and that it wasn’t until your wrote she wrote her first draft that she knew where things were headed. I felt so relieved after all those years of being told that the first thing you did was write your thesis statement, then your outline, and then your first draft.

I was reminded of this today when reading the April 28, 2013 New York Times article “A Writing Coach Becomes a Listener” about William Zinsser. So much focus in writing lately seems to be around genre I was comforted to read Zinsser’s dismissal of these categories during the initial stages. “Don’t worry about labels. . . .We’ll figure out what it is after you’ve written it.”

There are so many distractions in our world it is a good reminder to just focus on writing well and worry about the rest on a different day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Kamloops Whirlwind

Photo courtesy of Derek Hayes
Wow, what a conference! It was, as my daughter would say, jam packed.

Thursday I taught two workshops, From B to W; Blogs to Wikis: Delivering Historical Content in the Digital Age and Copyright for Print and Digital. I had two great groups of participants. They asked good questions, contributed their own experiences, and engaged enthusiastically in the exercises; I learnt from them while I shared what I know.

Thursday night was the opening reception. We were lucky to have both Dr. Ignace and Elizabeth Duckworth as our speakers as well as an amazing display of works through the BC Heritage Fairs programs. I am so happy when I see young students being involved in history.

Photo by Andrea Lister
Friday we were introduced to the grasslands by Wendy Gardner and then took a bus trip out to the grasslands.

To the left is the photo of the school buses that took us out there. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of our remarkable bus driver who backed us out back out of our parking spot after our bus bottomed out - school buses are not meant for four-wheel driving.

I learned a lot about the grasslands; its unique plants and birds and how all of those are endangered by development. Not only are we are destroying habitats for birds and plants but resting places along migratory routes for birds. And that was only part-way through Friday with more to go.............

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mysterious Afternoon

A few Saturdays back, 13th April 2013, I spent a pleasurable two hours at One Mysterious Afternoon, A Crime Writers of Canada Event with authors, Cathy Ace, Debra Purdy Kong, and David Russell. Hosted by the Maple Ridge Library, each author read from their mystery novels and answered questions.

They talked about how their writing styles differed. I always enjoy hearing how different writers work. In school, they tended to make you feel that there was only one way to write when in reality everyone has their own methodology. The authors were unanimous in their belief in the value of using professional editors, always nice to hear, but also realistic that mistakes still happen.

The questions took an interesting direction about the challenges of maintaining a realistic feel for locations and people while not crossing that line to libel. Obviously, authors need to be careful about libeling real people but they also careful about creating fictional people that are too close to real people. Not being a fiction writer, I hadn't given much thought to the idea of libelling a location prior to this discussion. The upshot being not to murder your character in a real restaurant or make your fictional company seem a little too familiar.

I found a good article on this topic on the Examiner website, Too many novelists are basing fictional characters on real people & being sued, published April 29, 2012, by Anne Hart about this topic if you are looking for more information.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Upcoming Workshops in Kamloops

I am heading to Kamloops soon for the British Columbia Historical Federation's annual conference: Historic Grasslands. Join me on Thursday, May 9, 2013 for one or two workshops.

$25.00 for Members | $35 for non-members

From B to W: Blogs to Wikis

Having a presence on the internet today is like having an entry in the phone book 30 years ago. Museums, historical societies, and history writers need to be on the web. However, there are a dizzying array of options: blogs, ebooks, facebook, Twitter, websites, and wikis are just some of the choices. Andrea Lister will take you through the options. The growth of the digital market makes it essential for historical organizations and historical writers to understand their digital options while ensuring they do not alienate their existing audience. The workshop includes a handout.
Thursday morning (9:00 am - 12:00 pm)

Copyright for Print and Digital

What does using an image in your printed book, on your website, on facebook, in a tweet, and on your blog have in common? You just published it. The world is becoming increasingly litigious and the publishing landscape has changed with the advent of websites, PDFs, blogs, and ebooks. Historical societies and individuals need to understand the basics of copyright before they publish. The workshop includes a handout. Andrea Lister is not a copyright lawyer and this workshop should in no way be considered legal advice.
Thursday afternoon (1:00 pm – 4:00 pm)

Of course, you can stay for the whole conference and enjoy 4 days of field trips, presentations, workshops, book display with invited and local authors, and the awards banquet with community historians, academics and history enthusiasts.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

So old!

"Oh my gosh, that is SO old." said my 6-year old looking at a sticker.

Terry Fox Run 2011. I chuckle but then consider that it is a good reminder to keep the perspective of your audience in mind when you are writing and editing.

Will your audience understand what a prairie blizzard is like?

Will they know how it feels to ride a Massey-Ferguson tractor in winter at 15 mph (25 km/hr)?

Do they know life without computers?

Answering those type of questions and filling in the details will bring your story to life. Make sure you add in how it smelt and felt so your content is less like reading an encyclopedia's entry and more of a sensory and emotional experience for your reader.

Know thy audience for they are not you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Agriculture and Food

Collection of the artist. Photographer: Jenn Walton
I have just signed off on the proof for the Spring issue of British Columbia History. I am very excited about the cover painting; Split Salmon, by Vancouver-based Haisla artist, Lyle Wilson and the articles that are contained within.

This issue is all about agriculture, food, and beverages. In this age of supercentres and online shopping it is nice to be reminded of the farmers, early importers, ranchers, food producers, and brewers. Sit back with a beverage of your choice and perhaps some Okanagan fruit and learn a bit about British Columbia's history of food production, agriculture, and commercialization.

For those that are interested in seeing more of Wilson's work. The exhibition, Paint: The Painted Works of Lyle Wilson opens at the Bill Reid Gallery on Wednesday, March 27, 2013.


Lyle Wilson and the miya

by Andrea Lister
Lyle Wilson`s art has ancient origins in the Haisla artistic traditions and also honours how the miya (salmon) have sustained the Haisla people for generations.

Farming, Fort Langley, 1867

by K. Jane Watt
“The weather here has now changed at last and is now all we can desire to make hay,” writes fifty-year old Ovid Allard from Fort Langley in the midsummer of 1867.

How the Japanese Orange Came to BC

by Ann-Lee Switzer
Who brought the first Japanese orange — also known as mikan or mandarin orange — to British Columbia, and when?

Ranching at the Tranquille Sanatorium

by Wayne Norton
On the north shore of Kamloops Lake, one ranch has the distinction of having played a role in BC’s medical history.

Dorothy Britton: Home Economist

by Mary Leah de Zwart and Linda Peterat
Consumer acceptance of processed food, in particular fruits and vegetables of the Okanagan Valley, came from Britton’s grassroots work between the food industry and the home.

The Stanley Park Brewery

by Bill Wilson
The Stanley Park Brewery has achieved a near-mythical status among those interested in Vancouver history but left many unanswered questions for brewery historians.

Behind the Scenes at James Inglis Reid Limited

by M. Anne Wyness
The delicious, smoky smell created by the curing and smoking element of the food production at James Inglis Reid Ltd. is remembered by many who shopped there.

Archives & Archivists

by Brad Nichols; edited by Sylvia Stopforth
The Last Retort. The Whistler Museum and Archives has digitized the newspaper that was the voice of the squatter ski bum — the Whistler Answer.

Cabinets of Curiosities

by Andrea Lister
Andrea Lister, grand-niece of champion plowman David B. Reid, tells the tale of how her grandfather’s winning horse plow returned to win again.

Book Reviews

Embracing the works of new writers and scholars relating to British Columbia's history.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hello Goodbye

I attended a unique and historical event over the past weekend - the Chilliwack Senior Secondary (CSS) Hello Goodbye Reunion. More than six decades of CSS grads, former staff, teachers, and their families were at the school to say hello to the new school and goodbye to the old CSS building.

My parents finding themselves and friends on the walls.
CSS opened in 1950 and the old building will be torn down in the summer. Chilliwack secondary teacher Steve Anderson and local Chilliwack musician Trevor McDonald organized a once in a lifetime event that included tours, presentations in the gym, memorabilia, photos and video.

People that had never met laughed about lining up for cafeteria food. Graduates 30 years apart  reminisced about the horrible green colour of the girl's bathroom. People poured over the graduation pictures.

Yes, up in what is now storage is where I took art history!
It was strange to go back to school with my parents and my uncle, all grads, and see our old classrooms. We shared vivid memories of the packed stairwells; none of us had any clue where our lockers had been. My strongest memories are of history, english, and art. Based on those happy memories it would seem that I am in the right career! The image to the left (photographer Darren Durupt) shows part of the special catalogue of artwork from Chilliwack senior secondary alumni that was on display.

My parents and I saw friends they had not seen in years. Goodbye to an era. Hello to new memories.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wrecking Ball Approach to Heritage

It is a common story; heritage buildings being demolished for the promise of progress. Does it work?

Recent history shows us that this type of progress does not build communities; it only isolates people by destroying the physical things that emotionally bind them.

Ryan McGreal, editor of urban affairs blog Raise the Hammer, says: “Hamilton is still stuck in that mindset: ‘if we want renewal, we have to demolish all the stuff that’s there now and put something new and shiny in its place.’ We’ve been doing that since the 1960s and it hasn’t worked yet,”

In Hamilton Ontario four Victorian commercial buildings are currently at risk. Two of these storefronts were designed in the 1840s by William Thomas; the others were constructed in the 1870s. The developer claims the buildings were shot when he bought them more than 10 years ago. Perhaps they were but I am sure the 10 years has not helped their condition.

A January 5, 2013 Globe and Mail aticle  goes on "over the decades, swaths of the core have been torn down to make way for inward-facing malls and a fortress-like convention centre that do little to liven up the streets. Other buildings were razed to make way for parking lots, leaving vast, empty spaces in the cityscape."

Instead of learning from these mistakes, Chilliwack seems to aiming for those same vast empty parking lots full of empty promises and lost heritage with their decision to demolish the Paramount Theatre. The building has both historic and emotional value for me as a former Chilliwack resident. Opened in June 1949, this large movie theatre in the heart of downtown Chilliwack has traces of Art Deco influences in its signage and fluted fa├žade. It was listed on the Heritage Canada Foundations Top Ten Endangered List. Many Chilliwackians saw their first movie there or had a first date. The current plan is to make the downtown 'shovel ready' for new development and revitalization. There was a proposal by the Chilliwack Paramount Film Society to transform the Paramount into a single-screen, repertory-type theatre offering 600 seats for patrons to screen vintage, independent, alternative or non-mainstream films that was rejected in favour of empty lots and dreams of waiting developers.

It is the same story in Vancouver where they are losing two cultural gathering places with one swing of the wrecking ball — the Ridge theatre and Varsity Ridge Bowling lanes.

"It’s real-estate values, property taxes, industry economics, and competitive dynamics that are killing the neighbourhood theatre." according to a recent article in the Straight.

It all comes down to money. These decisions disregard the emotional element that creates a strong sense of community from which a revitalization could truly become a reality. It can be argued that condos bring people to an area but those people need places to meet their neighbours and empty lots do not create a community.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Emotional Heritage

I recently had a conversation with a friend about museums after seeing a news article about the Museum of Nature's plan to attract a hip, new crowd by hosting a nightclub party once a month. I thought it was a good idea in terms of a revenue stream but not necessarily in terms of creating museum patrons. She said “you only need to visit a museum once; once you have seen the exhibits, you have seen them so fresh ideas are great". I admit that I am a history geek but I was shocked. I went on to say that museums have new exhibits and acquire new objects but she was steadfast in her opinion that repeat visits to museums are only for "history people".

In keeping with that idea, in September, the Maple Ridge Historical Society had two world-class experts – Ian McLellan and Brent Cooke – come to work with them to discuss what they need to build a new museum in Maple Ridge. Three of the most thought provoking questions they asked were:
  1. If the museum/archives were to disappear, who (other than those in the room) would care?
  2. If museum/archives are not an essential service, how do museum/archives become one?
  3. How does the community perceive museum/archives?
If my friend is a representative of the general community then historical organizations and city planners need to assess what the non-history people portion of their community sees as having historical value.

The facebook group We Call it Haney provides an insight into just that concept. In conversation with Val Patenaude, the director of the Maple Ridge Museum, she said the themes that reappear are buildings and events from when people were children and teenagers. The buildings themselves may not hold historic value in the traditional sense but they have an emotional value: schools, theatres, sporting events, and the 45 year old red bells that decorate the streets every Christmas.

I believe that museums/archives can be community hubs; places that offer different generations the opportunity to interact and connect and newcomers a chance to find a sense of belonging. Social media is a great place to create a virtual community but museums/archives need space to store the objects and documents to fuel the digital community. History also extends beyond the walls of institutions and into the streets and collective memories of its citizens. The trick is how to capture and support that community feeling.

How about you? Do you visit your community museum or do you view it as a tourist destination? How do you think museums/archives could become community hubs? Do you think historic buildings should be preserved?

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