Thursday, October 17, 2013

Using Movie Scenes in Self-Help Book

Dear Rich: Where can I find info about using movie scenes or dialogue in a self-help book? We're not sure if you want to use screenplay excerpts, still images, or plot summaries (or all of the above). So, we've mapped out three possible routes to take:
Get permission. Using film images and screenplay dialogue requires permission unless it qualifies as fair use (discussed below). (Summaries of scenes very rarely require permission.) Getting permission from the copyright owner -- most likely a movie studio -- will be expensive and difficult (assuming the studio permissions department takes your call).
If you signed a book contract and have indemnified the publisher for your content, we'd suggest that you summarize the scene and only include a few lines of verbatim dialogue from each film (which should qualify as a fair use). BTW, you can find and license them at sites such as Photofest, or MPTV Images.
Don't get permission and rely on fair use.  If you're self publishing or you don't have to worry about indemnifying a third party publisher, you could consider doing whatever you wanted, and hope it qualifies as a fair use. We provide our usual caveats: (1) less is more when it comes to fair use. That is, the less you take, the more likely you will be able to claim fair use; and (2) a final fair use determination is up to the courts so a studio can hassle you all the way to the courthouse. If in doubt, review fair use cases and rules, and follow the suggestions above about summarizing scenes.
Don't get permission and do what you want. If you're self-publishing and don't anticipate that anyone associated with the films or the studios will see your book, then do whatever you want. There's always some risk ... but chances are good that even if someone sees it, they won't take action unless they spot a big target (e.g., a major publisher) from whom to seek damages.

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