You might have noticed that on certain books that you read, Bible verses have been reprinted as well as song lyrics and quotes from movies or other works of fiction. You may have wondered how that author was able to get those things and use them in their work. The fact is, almost all the time; these things are used with permission. There are other elements of stories that authors often want to know including whether they can use the names of official sports teams, towns and city names, names of brands and various other elements that make up our daily lives and can add credibility and connection to a story. Let’s take a look at each of these things and reference Reedsy’s How to Copyright a Book post so you can see where you might stand in terms of copyright violation.
The first thing you should know is when it comes to movie quotes, song lyrics or anything like that; you definitely want to get permission before you use them. Even if you are self-publishing, writing and getting permission is vital. Sometimes this will be provided with no fee to you. This is especially true if you tell them that you are an independent publisher and do not expect to sell very many copies. They might come back later and demand a higher fee if you become a best-selling author with this work however.
One thing that you can use without having to worry too much is Bible verses. You are able to use a certain number of Bible verses per book without ever having to give credit or give permission – even if that is from a particular translation that a certain company has published. The Bible is kind of public domain in this way, but there are protections in place to keep you from republishing an entire Bible that someone else has themselves already published.
As for using certain elements in your story that belong to other people, the fact is that it can be tricky. The main thing that you want to look at is whether or not you are making that particular brand or town look bad. One of the things that authors often do is to add a disclaimer in the front of the book on the copyright page that says that places the locales that were mentioned in the book are either made up or reuse fictitiously. This lets you off the hook if you write a horror story about how everyone in the Knoxville, Tennessee, is a serial killer including those within government.
As for using brand names like stores and names of products in your work, the rule of thumb is that if you are just mentioning them in passing, then will probably be all right and you don’t have to worry about getting permission or getting sued. For example, if your main character drinks a Coca-Cola from the fridge and then goes up in brushes their teeth with their Oral-B toothbrush, then you don’t have to worry about these companies coming after you because you basically given them free advertising. However, if you write something derogatory about either of these products, then you may have to worry a little more that they’re going to get offended.