Those Infamous Lines

I love movies. Every now and again, a line from a movie is perfect for a scene in my writing. I can quote The Princess Bride like nobody’s business. And even in my darkest writings, I find the humor of Maverick, Wayne’s World or Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be useful at keeping the reader willing to continue with my ramblings.

Most of us are guilty, using lines to interest the reader, communicate something found universally within various media. Shoot, Laurell K. Hamilton uses The Princess Bride in almost every Anita Blake novel.

An issue came to light recently while editing another author’s work. Throughout the MS were several lines from still copyrighted movies, action scenes from recent blockbuster movies, and even love scenes.

I had to note each one, noting the movie and actors, remind the author copyright laws are still in effect.

The point? When talking to someone, quoting a movie line is fine. When working to be published? You’d best acknowledge the movie to prevent legal issues.

It is argued that all plotlines are the same, it is the creativity bring the plot to light which is unique to each author. The voice, a twist on the characters, a different world – all are unique. But when quoting from others’ work, whether book, movie or speech, keep in mind the copyright.

Most don’t mind if we quote every now and again. Shoot, several authors and actors have said they find it flattering if remembered.

But we all get upset if it’s stolen and passed off as someone else’s.

“If I must, I’ll take you a piece at a time,” he said, pointing the sword, a piece of cloth at the end.

Sound familiar? Yep, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the 1991 movie with Kevin Costner, spoken during the last sword fight with the Sheriff. Makes for a great action line, no denial there. Yet if you try to pass it as your own line during whatever action scene, and someone recognizes it, you could find yourself in hot water.

What about those fairy tale retellings currently so popular? Many of us understand those are not under copyright. The new retellings will be, but the originals aren’t. Not a problem.

Most copyrighted works are recent, but by no means the only ones. Gone With the Wind is still copyrighted by Mitchell’s estate, a book more than eighty years old.

If you are going to use lines and scenes from other works, err on the side of caution, make sure you tell where it came from. When revising and editing your own work, keep a thought in the back of your mind if a scene is straight from a recent movie/book. I admit to finding little things every now and again, but they were caught and revised. Our imagination can work things in without conscious thought.

It’s also a good reason why Critique Partners and Beta Readers are so important, they often catch them if you don’t. Always a good thing.

I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m saying use them carefully.

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About Queen of Red Ink

Worked for too long as an editor for publishing houses, left and went out on my own.

2 thoughts on “Those Infamous Lines

  1. Moonshade says:

    I recently ran into this problem with “Happy Birthday To You”. I used it as that one song that literally everybody knows… only to find out that, despite its age, it’s still copyrighted. And that its copyright holders are VICIOUS about protecting that (it’s why you see all those cheesy rewrites and stuff at restaurants).

    It’s one of those things to be wary of!

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