Thursday, January 7, 2010

Using One Liners from Email List

Dear Rich: I edit an annual photography book, sold to raise money for charity, which accepts photos from members of an email list. We have a "click-wrap" agreement for the photo upload system. But the book also includes a few pages featuring a compilation of the wittiest quips that have appeared on the mailing list over the past year. I get the quotations either directly from the emails that go out on the list server or through third-party web sites that archive all the content that appears on the mailing list. Are there any copyright issues I should be aware of in taking one-line quotations like this? The short answer is that you're probably fine. Most short statements are hard to protect under copyright for various reasons we've mentioned before in our blog. So you're generally good to go when you take a one-liner from an online source. Issues are more likely to arise if you take several one-liners from a single source, or if your one-liners are actually three or four-liners. 
What about attribution? The Dear Rich Staff could go either way on this one so you can make the call. For many people attribution is a validating experience; others may prefer anonymity. Also, we probably don't need to say it -- but we can't help ourselves since we're in the legal business -- you probably want to avoid defamatory or privacy-invading one-liners. In the future, you can consider adding a "permission statement" to your mailing list terms and conditions, indicating that some statements may be included in the annual photo book.