Back in 2016 you posted that an author does NOT need written permission from the copyright holder if only a short line is being used. This was challenged recently by someone in my writer's group, so I'm seeking clarification.
In a novel, I reference the heroine's adoration for the movie The Princess Bride. My novel's hero borrows the phrase, "As you wish," from the movie and this is repeated multiple times throughout the book with no ambiguity regarding where he learned the phrase and it's true meaning. I felt I could use this phrase because it's short and I've made the reference clear in the story. My author friend disagreed, because of the heavy reliance on the movie as part of my heroine's backstory. She feels the circumstances require me to acquire written permission even though the only phrase quoted is "As you wish."
If I have a character who quotes lines from different movies, as long as they're no more than a single sentence, and if I have her list the reference, does that require written permission? I have her using one of my favorites: "I am made of bourbon and poor choices." After her friend asks if it's a quote, the character says, "Yes. London Has Fallen, 2016." This is one of the character's "things" and she does it several times throughout the book with various lines from different movies. Permission required for lines like that?
The fair use issue is a bit confounding, especially when using iconic words and phrases, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. Should I change it up to "As you please?" or am I safe with "As you wish?"
Gah. You can just hear my hamster wheel going round and round, can't you? I'm making myself nuts.
Do you consult your plumber about how to cut your hair?
Or maybe you consult your coiffure stylist about how to unclog a drain.
Asking someone who apparently has zero expertise on a very technical subject is ...well...my thesaurus offers up "short sighted."
Fair use is a moving target. Even intellectual property and copyright attorneys don't have a fixed standard.
The National Writers Union has this to say about fair use:
Contrary to common opinion, there is no absolute number of words one can always quote without permission. Whether an unauthorized use of copyrighted material can be considered fair use depends on four primary considerations:
1. the purpose and character of the use; e.g., whether it is commercial in nature
2. the nature of the copyrighted work
3. the proportion of the copyrighted work that was used (in both quantitative and
qualitative terms) and
4. the economic impact of the use.
These four criteria suggest some rough rules of thumb: It is easier to claim fair use when you are quoting the material for a non-commercial purpose; when the quotation is essential to what you are writing (e.g., a book review); when the material you are quoting is factual; when the amount you are using is a small portion of the total work; and when your use of the material will not undermine the market for the original work.
However, in no case would using a phrase that is in the common parlance -- "as you wish" being a good example -- qualify as infringement.
Which is a good thing because "Prepare to die!" is often heard here in the Reef as we read queries.
Not to mention "I'll be back" when heading to the loo. Let alone "we're going to need a bigger boat."
There are a lot of people who think they know more than they do, and they delight in telling other people how to live, work, and litigate.
Be careful who you listen to.