As an academic, my papers (I assume) have been cited. But only once do I remember a publisher, on behalf of a writer, contacted me to ask if they could reused (or republish) a chart I had created in one of papers - for a textbook. I gave them my permission and that was the end of it.

Now I am about to publish my first (non academic) book. I still have footnotes with citations, maybe 5-10 per chapter, but it never occurred to me to ask permission, as long as the citation was proper. The only time I asked for permission was when I printed a comic strip by a popular author.

So - for the other citations - do I need to get permission to publish a quote, or a small excerpt? (for instance if a sentence with an industry fact or statistic).

Clarification: I am asking about both citations (paraphrased in my own words) ... but especially quoted material.

Three examples:let's say an author wrote a book about blogging.

  1. In the first case his book is organized into 10 chapters, each with a title that colorfully describes his tenets of blogging. In my book, write: Famous blogger Joe Smith, in his book "Blogging for Fame and Fortune" writes the 10 tenets of blogging: (list follows)
    1. Same example, except that, instead of chapter titles, inside the book, the author has the tenets listed explicitly. In my book. I write something similar, quoting the list.
    2. Same example - except in my book, I only quote or cite 3-4 elements of the list.

Which, of any of those do I need to get the other writer's permission (or his publisher's permission)? Or is justy proper attribution OK?

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    "But only once do I remember a publisher, on behalf of a writer, contacted me" - in fields where (exclusive or not) copyright transfers to the publisher are common, the author probably amost never learns about such requests because the writers who want to reuse material will contact only the publisher. Aug 30, 2016 at 16:15
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    I believe that you're asking about quotations and reproductions rather than citations. Do you want to clarify your question?
    – jakebeal
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:36
  • You use the word "citations", but presumably you mean "quotations". Clearly, you don't need permission to cite a work as a relevant reference or where you are briefly summarising ideas from a source in your own words as part of your own larger work. Most citations are not quotes. Aug 31, 2016 at 1:11

3 Answers 3


Citations are how the academic world works. Any copyright law that I know of respects this system, and covers quotations under "fair use". Also, academics love to get cited - in the proper way. Presumably, they wrote the original source with the hope that they will get cited. Asking if they agree their text to be cited is as counterproductive as asking a supermarket employee if the peaches in the produce section, with the price tag on them, are meant for sale.

You still have to make sure that it is what academics understand as a "citation". That is, if you make a claim in your own words, you still mark it with a reference. If you reuse a snippet, you put it in quotation marks and mark with a reference. The boundaries between "a phrase" (you don't have to attribute it, because it's too short), "a snippet" (it is a quotation, you may use it as long as you attribute it) and "too long" (you reused too much to count as a quotation) are fluid. They depend on the actual length of the text copied, on the length of your text, and on the function of the text in both the original work and yours. Still, with something like 1-3 sentences (attributed!) you are typically on the safe side.

Images are a different beast. They don't "work" like quotations. Even if the author is not interested in pursuing copyright for them, their publisher may well do it. I don't know why this is the case, it may be because images are more salient than sentences, because they frequently contain too much information (often representing the core of somebody's theory), or because it used to be much more work to create an image than to type text. Anyway, the appropriate thing is to always get a permission to reprint images. You can even place a notice in the caption, for example "A concept for creating world piece, from [Smartass2016]. Reprinted with permission".

Bottom line, if you quote a sentence or two, that's OK, just add a reference and it is a proper citation. If it is an image, ask for permission. If it is something else, best to contact your publisher and ask for advice.

  • You sometimes seem to be using "citation" interchangeably with "quotation." A citation is only the reference to the original work, which is an integral part of a quotation but distinct from it. Can you please clean up your language to clarify?
    – jakebeal
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:31
  • @jakebeal I'll try it. The distinction does not exist in my primary language, so I thought the two English words are synonyms.
    – rumtscho
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:33
  • Interesting... in English, "citation" is the reference and "quotation" is a piece of material copied verbatim from that references.
    – jakebeal
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:35
  • I was referring to German. Technically, it does have different words. "Zitat" is the quotation. The citation would be covered by words like "Quellenangabe" (literally: giving of source), "Literaturnachweis" (proof of literature), "Verweis" (link, cross reference), or simply "Referenz" (reference). They are rarely used, and the word "Zitat" is obviously related to "citation". The dictionary I checked now translates both "citation" and "quotation" as "Zitat". In years of reading and writing academic texts in English, I never realized the difference, thank you for pointing it out.
    – rumtscho
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:46

Legally,this kind of "copying" falls under the heading of fair use, and does not require permission. Teaching and research (along with criticism and parody) are "protected" uses.

Basically, copying somebody's work is bad, but "talking about" someone's work is good, because it will increase demand for the original. A bit of "citing" or "copying" is necessary to give the flavor of the original. To be on safe ground, you need to do at least three things:

1) You must properly cite the original work.
2) You must limit your use of someone else's work to as little as is reasonably necessary to accomplish your purpose.
3) Your contribution must be "transformative" by putting your own work over and above the original.

Moreover, "facts and statistics" are not "copyrightable" so if you cite them from another source, with only the minimum of added text from it for clarity, you wouldn't be "copying" at all.

  • The fair use exception to copyright only exists in US law. There may be something similar in, e.g., EU law that makes it legal to include short quotations in your own work, but it's not called fair use and is probably much more limited. Fair use can allow things like photocopying an entire chapter of a book for your students to use in a class.
    – user1482
    Aug 31, 2016 at 4:35

You don't need permission to cite something. You will need permission if you copy too much of it. How much is too much will vary based on the length of the copied content and the length of the original (and their legal team).

  • Correct. For the OP, note that you have been cited many times (I hope) without contact. Only when they wanted explicit permission to copy a chart were you contact to establish that you were OK with them doing that. You granted them the right to copy (hence copyright).
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:50

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