Copyright woes

I originally posted this in the general game design forum, but I thought this one was more appropriate, so I moved it.

I wanted to use a certain two-line poem as the epigraph to my IF WIP. (Well, three lines, if you include the title.) But I didn’t write the poem. So I contacted the publisher, a large New York company. The results were… disappointing. I’d like to share the whole correspondence with you and find out if this is typical, if I can do anything better in the future, etc. Names, contact information, and the title of the poem have all been censored. Of course, everything is in reverse chronological order.

Note that, although I was asked for my physical address, I received no physical correspondence.

The “first published by” thing came up because the original publisher had become an imprint of the company I contacted in the intervening years.

So, advice/analysis anyone? Thanks in advance.

I would contact the author as the rights may have reverted back in the interim, or be non-exclusive to that publisher.

If the author says no, I would drop it. Quoting any copyrighted work in its entirety is problematic.

The “not consistent with the original intention of the poem” makes me wonder. Aside from the question of how a poem (which is not only inanimate and, presumably, insentient, but intangible) can be said to have an intention, I wonder if this might be a knee-jerk reaction by somebody who does not understand the nature of the work in which you wish to quote the poem. Consider the following possible train of thought by a self-important flunky: “We’re a high-brow publishing house. We publish poetry. We don’t publish things for the great unwashed. Video games are things played by unwashed teenagers who don’t know how to read and instead pretend to shoot at each other. We would never be associated with any such stuff. HMMPH!”

Unfortunately, if that is what is going on, I don’t know that there’s much to do about it.

Robert Rothman

One possibility would be (perhaps next time) to try saying that it will be used as the epigraph for a piece of interactive fiction, or hypertext literature, or what not.

I think you’re probably out of luck here, but:

[rant]How do they know it’s not consistent? You said nothing about the content of the game. Do they think that having the poem quoted in a text adventure will somehow cause them to lose sales? That people will think, “I was going to buy this book of poetry, but two lines from it are quoted in this free game, so I no longer need to!”? If anything, the more likely outcome is “Hmm, I liked that poem in the epigraph; maybe I should seek out more works by that author.” If I were the poet in question, I wouldn’t be too happy about my publisher actively working to prevent me from getting free publicity.[/rant]

By the way, why redact the names of the publisher, poet, and poem? Even if they won’t let you quote it, you can certainly say, “I wanted to use such-and-such as an epigraph, but so-and-so won’t let me; sorry!”

At least you got an answer.
I tried to get permission to use a theme song from an old movie (60’s) for my game and never heard a word back. Tried to write them a few times and then gave up.

Thanks. I think I will, if I can find his contact information anywhere. I think he or his publisher has gone to some length to shield him from correspondence, as he’s one of the most popular American poets of today. And no, I won’t quote without permission.

I imagined that going through their heads too. Incidentally, I’m an unwashed teenager, but the rest doesn’t apply to me. Actually, I’m technically not a teenager anymore either, but only by several months.

I would normally call it interactive fiction, but I used textual video game because I didn’t want to alienate the folks in the rights office by referring directly to a medium and community they probably hadn’t heard of. Electronic literature might have been a good compromise.

Tell me about it! :slight_smile:

It wasn’t really a private conversation, but I didn’t think publisher expected it to be public either, so redaction felt like the ethical thing to do.

Yeah, I didn’t really even expect to get one. I firmly believe that there should be some sort of compulsory copyright release system for this sort of thing, whereby anyone willing to pay a certain government-established rate to the copyright holder. If there actually is such a system, and I’ve failed to notice it, I hope someone will educate me!