Just when I think I’ve got this whole publishing thing down, another little kink gets thrown in my pipe. What was it yesterday? Copyright infringement. And whose copyright were we going to possible infringe? Oh, yes. Disney. That gentle giant just known for their leniency when defending their copyright. (I am positively dripping sarcasm right now. It’s oozing out of my pores and is starting to coat my computer keys.)

Fortunately the infringement in question is one paragraph in a 250 page book where the character compares, by name, other characters to a certain set of 7 dwarves. You know, Angry, Wretchy, Bumbly, Stuttery, Wrinkly, Bitterly, and Joe. I ran the paragraph in question past Lawyer, and he said that it could be construed as infringement. So to be safe it needed to be changed. And for the ARC it has been although we may try to get permission to use the original paragraph in the final book.

When I told my author that we needed to change, he understandably was upset and proceeded to regale me with countless pop-culture references some of which appeared to infringe on someone’s copyright much more than his but didn’t have permission notices. And I agree with him that there’s some line out there that makes it okay to use pop-culture references that infringe. I just don’t know where that line is.

So, I shall ask all of you: when do you think a reference crosses the line? I don’t mean give me a legal opinion. This is just an open dialog.

And finally, how do I feel about pop-culture reference? Normally I try to have my authors avoid them. I feel they date a work, and I generally only accept very common, older references. Hence characters can drink Coke or refer to Snow White’s dwarves because they are such an intrinsic part of our culture that everyone knows who they are. More obscure things like band names or movie names I tend to leave out. I don’t want kids to have to read an annotated version in 20 years in order to understand all the wit in the story.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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