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Fair Use Question of the Month: Cultural Reporting and Criticism

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Dear Center for Media & Social Impact,

I am reviewing the latest work of a novelist, and want to quote some text from his earlier novel, as well his current one, to show how differently the novelist uses language in his current work. I know I have permission to quote from the current work because the publisher requested that I write this review. But I am grappling with whether it is appropriate to quote from the novelist’s earlier work. 


Dear Melanie,

Your fellow journalists have come across the same question in their work. Check out Situation Three in the Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism, created by journalists, for journalists. This section deals with the use of copyrighted material in cultural reporting and criticism: “The use of textual, visual and other quotations of cultural material for purposes of reporting, criticism, commentary, or discussion constitutes fair use.”

Journalists often employ copyrighted material both in referring to the existence of phenomena and in developing arguments about them, which is a critical part of the circulation of culture in a society.

Your problem seems fair-use eligible. Be sure you also consider the limitations within cultrual reporting and criticism. Ask yourself:

Are you using a reasonably appropriate amount of the either novel with an intention to serve your reader’s understanding of your arguments in the review?

Is your quotation from either novel put into the context of your comments, and is it clear to the reader why you chose that section to quote?

Are you making clear connections between your commentary and the selection of the quote by referencing and giving credit to the appropriate novel – via text cues such as end-notes, foot-notes, or hyperlinks?

Have you made any prior promises to the author/publisher of the copyrighted material regarding what you would use or not from either novel?

Once you have answered these questions to your satisfaction as a professional journalist, you will be able to make a good choice.