Monday, October 13, 2014

Puzzling Question

Dear Rich: I am writing a book on problem solving that I will publish independently -- around a few hundred copies to give away and maybe a few more to sell. I will be using examples of puzzles and games (taken from the Internet, email forwards, newspapers, books...) The book starts with puzzles for children and evolves into all sorts of puzzles (including counting shapes, tanagrams, matchstick and coin puzzles, crosswords, jig-saw puzzles, find the hidden objects in pictures, and find the differences between pictures). I also explore games like Sudoku, Solitaire, Minesweeper, Rubik's cube, chess, draughts, and IQ type puzzles. How do I know when I need to ask for permission? With only a few hundred copies being circulated, it seems unlikely that the copyright owner of one of the puzzles reproduced in your book would learn of your use. If an owner did learn of your problem-solving book and saw the copied puzzle, they might not have the motivation to pay a lawyer to chase you. Puzzle owners primarily care about those who copy puzzles and "compete" -- for example, someone who gathers a batch of puzzles and sells them or offers them as a free download in order to attract Internet advertising clicks. A puzzle owner cares less about an author who uses one puzzle to make a theoretical point about problem solving (which may likely be a transformative fair use). And of course, not all puzzles can be protected by copyright ... some games like hangman or solitaire lack the originality required for protection. Finally, any facts underlying a game -- for example, the words used in Scrabble or the number combinations used in Soduku -- are not separately protectable.
In summary dept. There may be some risks involved with your unauthorized copying, but the odds are in your favor to proceed without permission. If you're risk-averse and you wish to seek permission -- for example, if a publisher will be issuing your book --  you can find the tips for tracking down copyright owners of the puzzles (and photographs) in our Getting Permission book. Also, avoid using branded puzzle trademarks (Scrabble, Rubik's Cube, Minecraft) on the cover art of your book as you don't want to imply another company's endorsement.