Copyright for Pagans: Common situations

So, all this talk about copyright, what does it mean? In this part, I’m going to talk about some situations that come up commonly, and best practices for dealing with them.

Copyright for Pagans: Common Pagan situations : white chalk text on green blackboard background.

Personal notes

People sometimes wonder where the lines are, and I’ve known some people who panic about copying material for their own personal notes.

Copyright law has an exception for personal research and study. It’s okay to make a copy (from a legit copy of a work) of a moderate amount of material for your own use – for example, a specific chapter of a book that’s most relevant, or an article from a journal issue, or a selection of articles from a bunch of different journals specific to your topic.

The key is that it’s for your own personal research, and it shouldn’t replace the purchase of that book, or that journal, or whatever. The minute you want to share your collected stuff, you’re stepping outside personal use, and some different concerns apply.

What else is okay? It’s usually fine to copy something (or portions of something) into your own notes, such as a chart, map, layout, quotation, summary, etc. that you find helpful.

Here’s some examples

  • Copying a specific ritual bit (spell, invocation, etc.)
  • A layout for a ritual set up, Tarot spread, or other item.
  • An article on a specific obscure deity from an academic journal
  • A chapter dealing with deities from a specific location from a larger book.
  • Keeping a copy of a public post (such as on a blog) for future reference or study (i.e. a post about a particular tradition or group).

Key tips

Whenever you make copies of materials like this, it’s important to note where you got it from. That way, if you ever do want to use it in a way that requires permission or formal citation, you’ll have the information you need.

The information I find useful to note includes:

  • Author’s name
  • Title of where I got it from (blog, website, book, journal, etc.)
  • Address of site (if relevant) or other contact information for the author.
  • When I collected it

In some cases, noting what I was working on when I found it is helpful. If you’re collecting PDFs, many PDF readers have an annotation tool that means you can type in brief notes on a blank bit of page (beginning or end).

Creating a ritual

One of the things some Pagan folk do a lot is create ritual, or help provide ritual.

And no one wants to stop in the middle of ritual to say “This chant comes from Jess Middleton’s Songs for Earthlingspage 77, and it’s by Donald Engstrom” (One of my favourites, and not just because I know Donald.)

So how do we handle that?

One way is to provide ritual notes at the beginning and end, or to provide them in some other format, so people can track down that chant.

For example, if you have a website, email list, Facebook or Meetup page, put the notes in the ritual of pieces from elsewhere afterwards. Some groups might do half or quarter sheet pages with lyrics and also things to take away from the ritual, like a reminder of the focus or the names of the deities invited.

Sometimes it’s possible to slide that into a description “We’ll be singing “This song” written by This Person, to raise energy to charge our working and “Other song” written by Second Person as we share in food and drink together.”

Key tips

If you’re using other people’s stuff, make it easier for the people you’re sharing it with to find more of it. Everyone wins that way. It also provides reassurance that you’re not misappropriating materials.

(I was around for a situation where someone lightly rewrote evangelical Christian songs and passed them off as their own work. Not only is this not cool on the copyright front, and probably disturbing to the creators of the works who had other things in mind, but it was really jarring and ritual-disrupting for people in that ritual who knew the originals, had strong emotional reactions to them, and didn’t expect to hear close variants in a Pagan ritual.)

It helps a lot if you use sources that mention where they got things when they share them – the Songs for Earthlings book does this, as does the Panpipes Pagan Chant site from Ivo Dominguez for chants. (And sometimes you can use these sources to find the original creators of things you learn elsewhere.)

Blog posts, reviews, and similar writing

Book reviews (and reviews of other things, like audio recordings, podcasts, sites, etc.) are a common way to share resources and talk about them. It can be a great way to send traffic to the sources and resources you most like.

People often wonder whether it’s okay to quote, and if so how much. Here’s the bad news: there’s no clear on answer to this, but there are some common good ideas.

Key tips

Quote the minimal amount you need to to make your point. If you like someone’s ideas but don’t need to quote the precise words, summarise or paraphrase the original.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s some great clear examples from Kate Hart using Harry Potter as the source. The rest of the article has some useful tips too.

A good guideline is no more than about 2-3 sentences in a longish (1000 words or so) blog post or online post. If you’re writing a review or discussion of a piece of material, then you’re adding additional information, and you can usually get away with quoting a bit more. For longer works, a common guideline is 250 words total from a book-length work, and proportionately less for shorter works.

On social media, if you’re sharing images or passing along information, make sure you include link backs to the original – it can be easy to miss these when reblogging or tweeting.

Formal writing

The most complex section in some ways, because there are so many variations here. But it’s also the briefest here, because my basic guidance is to look for resources on the kind of formal writing you’re doing .

Academic writers use one of a variety of style and citation guides (MLA, APA, Chicago, or many other field-specific ones) to manage this, and those citation guides take entire books or websites to explain.

In the meantime, keeping clear accurate notes of your materials and their sources will go a long way.

This series

The last part will be coming soon, talking about what to do if you create material (and you have created copyrighted material yourself, I’m quite sure!)