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Secondary historical sources & copyrights

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Secondary historical sources & copyrights

Post by Belili » Thu January 8th, 2009, 5:08 am

I've never been able to get a good answer to this question, and since there are several published HF writers on this forum, I figured it would be a good place to ask. What are the copyright rules when using secondary historical sources to write HF--as in, biographies and history books? Surely one doesn't need to footnote their fiction, right? A "further reading" or bibliography section is what's in order, correct?

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Post by Margaret » Fri January 9th, 2009, 6:21 am

You don't have to footnote anything unless it's directly quoted. If it's a direct quote, you have to acknowledge that (or it would be plagiarism). Ideas can't be copyrighted, only the way an author words the ideas. The authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail sued Dan Brown, essentially on the theory, I understand, that his story line in The Da Vinci Code borrowed the premise of their book. They lost. Don't take this as legal advice, though, because I'm not a lawyer.

But it would be impossible to write decent fiction if you had to footnote a source everytime your characters' behavior was based on something you read in a history book. (i.e., you read in a historian's book that some famous historical personage used red sealing wax for his letters, and you show the character using red sealing wax on a letter he sends.) On the other hand, it's not fair (or good fiction) to just lift whole passages out of people's history books, even if you make slight changes to the wording. (i.e., you read in a historian's book, "X was inordinately fond of red sealing wax and used it to seal his letters from the time he was a boy of ten," and write, "X was inordinately fond of red sealing wax. He used it to seal his letters from the time he was a boy of ten." - that's plagiarism. If you were writing a term paper, the thing to do is quote it exactly, set it off in quotation marks, and footnote the source. If you're writing fiction, this is a sign that you're too close to your sources and would do better to pull away from them and exercise your imagination a little more.) Of course, there are times when you might want to quote from a document of the time period, say one of Queen Elizabeth's letters in a novel about Queen Elizabeth. Her letters are long out of copyright and fair game; they don't need to be footnoted.
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Post by princess garnet » Fri January 9th, 2009, 5:04 pm

Sandra Gulland put short explanatory footnotes in her Josephine B. trilogy.

If you want to add a short bibliography with a short explanation, that's good too.

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Post by TerriPray » Sun January 18th, 2009, 4:31 pm

Karen Marie Moning's books are a good example of how to do it. She lists the books she's used for research in the back of her books, and I've actually found some damn good research books that way.

However, as it's been pointed out you can't quote directly without acknowledgement, and in many cases written permission from the original author or copyright holder.

This rule applies not only to historical fiction, but all fiction and non fiction.

Currently reading through submissions ranging from alternative history to science fiction and fantasy.

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