Copyright infringement is complicated, confusing and a little scary. What if I accidentally write a sentence in my novel that someone else had written in another novel before mine? I’m not a lawyer but I am interested in copyright laws, so I did a bit of research on the topic. A general definition of copyright infringement is using someone else’s creative work without their permission. It is illegal to copy large sections of someone else’s work without their permission even if you provide appropriate citation. The operative words here are “large sections.” According to United States copyright laws, copying one sentence from a piece of writing is not illegal. Copying ideas or writing similar passages is also not illegal. Still a bit confusing?
In order to understand copyright infringement we need to understand the concept of Fair Use. Fair Use is intended to set standards for borrowing small portions of a previously written work, but never the complete work. However, Fair Use prohibits borrowing even small amounts of a work if it can cause financial harm to the original writer or if the lines are considered the heart of the work.
As authors, our best bet is to avoid the quagmire of copyright infringement by making every effort to ensure that our writing is original.