Does writing book summareis (like Cliff Notes) violate copyright law? How short should they be? Do you need permission?

Posted on 2008-11-05
Last Modified: 2013-11-25
I am a writer and am thinking of writing book summaries to publish and sell. I see there are some businesses doing that out there already.

I read that publisher permission might not be necessary, and that summaries can actually help promote a book so publishers like them. I would like to do quite a few of them so wish I wouldn't have to bother with contacting the publishers. At the same time, I don't want to be involved in any copyright infringement or tick people off. And perhaps I could establish relationships with a few publishers who are favorable to my work, and happy with what I am doing.

In any case, I wonder if I could get some stellar advice on this. What do the experts think, and what would they do?

Thanks so much in advance.
Question by:michigancj
    LVL 9

    Accepted Solution

    As long as your summaries are your own work, and not entriely, or largely, copies of tracts from the original, and your documents are titled accordingly, I do not see how you could be infringing copyright. That said, I would still reccomend contacting Publishers first, to get their views directly (apart from anything else you will presumeably need someone to publish your summaries). If you organise yourself, to work with one publisher at a time, as opposed to skipping about through several of them,  there should not be too much impact on you from contacting them.

    As too the comment on Publishers liking summaries because of there promotional benefit, depends very much on what the original titles are. For general reading, and most hobbie / enjoyment related material, this is undoubtedly true, but if you are looking at text books / required reading for courses, summaries of this nature tend to be treated as an alternative to reading the original, and can depress sales considerably.

    Author Closing Comment

    Thank-you Peter. That seems like excellent information and I really appreciate it. As a writer I care about the intellectual property of others, although since I tend to summarize some of the good books I read for myself, I was looking for a way to share that with others without too much red tape. You gave me some valuable things to think about, thanks again.


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