Permissions and Fair Dealing

Welsh Books Council

Permissions and Fair Dealing

Permission is required to quote from works in copyright, except in cases where the conventions of ‘fair dealing’ are taken to apply and also for certain specific uses by libraries and educational institutions, as follows.

1. Quotations made for ‘purposes of criticism or review’. While the source of the quotation must always be acknowledged, the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association advise that permission need not normally be sought if the quotation is of:

  • a single extract of prose up to 400 words
  • a series of prose extracts, none of which exceeds 300 words, to a total of 800 words
  • a total of 40 lines from a poem (a single extract or a series of extracts), provided that this does not exceed a quarter of the poem.

To constitute ‘fair dealing’, it is necessary that such quotations be accompanied by bona fide comment, assessment, interpretation or other appropriate material. An anthology, even if it were to adhere to the guidelines above, would always be regarded as a commercial exploitation of the material included and would lie outside the provisions of fair dealing.

2. Copies made for private study and research. Use must be by an individual and not be for commercial purposes.

3. Reporting current events. (This does not apply to photographs.)

4. Incidental usage. This exemption applies mainly to ‘passing shots’ in broadcast media.

The above exemptions (1.-4.) are detailed in Sections 29-31 of the 1988 Copyright Act which is accessible at

5. Work quoted or copied for use in educational establishments. Narrow and very specific exemptions for schools and colleges are detailed in Sections 32-36 of the 1988 Copyright Act which is accessible at

5. Work copied in libraries. Exemptions for libraries are detailed in Sections 37-44 of the 1988 Copyright Act which is accessible at

In all other cases, permission needs to be sought where it is intended to use any ‘substantial’ extract from a copyright work. The Copyright Act does not define the term ‘substantial’; however, it may be taken to refer as much to the nature of an extract as to its length. For this reason, it is always best, outside the specific guidelines above, to err on the side of caution and seek clarification from the publisher or copyright holder.

It is generally the author’s responsibility to clear such permissions, except for jacket illustrations and other items selected by the publisher. Most publishing contracts ensure that this is the case and also contain an indemnity against infringement. This may not, however, be sufficient to protect the publisher from all legal challenge and it is part of an editor’s responsibilities to check that all permissions have been cleared.

Information about the questions which must be asked and the details which must be included in requests for permission are available on the Society of Authors website at and at

A copyright holder can normally be traced through the author’s publisher or, otherwise, through bodies such as WATCH (Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders) at, the Society of Authors at, and the Public Lending Right Registrar and major authors’ agencies such as A. P. Watt at When it proves impossible to trace the copyright holder, publication may constitute an infringement, even if an appropriate acknowledgement is printed. It will help the author’s and the publisher’s case, however, if they can demonstrate diligence and good faith, for example by setting aside a fee or royalty and through keeping a record of the all efforts made to contact the copyright holder.


There is no single scale of fees in connection with permissions, and trade organisations such as the Publishers Association are now prevented from issuing recommendations under legislation designed to promote competition. Permission to use very short passages (up to 250 words) does not normally incur a charge, except, on occasion, a small administration fee. For more substantial quotations, the authors’ agent, A. P. Watt, administers two scales, for major and minor writers respectively. Its fees for major writers are:

  • Prose: £180/ 1000 words for world English-language rights (WEL)
  • Poetry: £150/ up to 10 lines for world English-language rights (WEL), £2.80 per line for the next 20 lines and £1.80 per line thereafter. (If more than one poem is used, the fee for each poem is calculated separately.)
  • World excluding USA: 60% WEL
  • US and Canada: two-thirds WEL
  • World excluding USA and Canada: 55% WEL
  • USA or Europe: 50% WEL
  • British Commonwealth including Canada: 50% WEL
  • British Commonwealth excluding Canada: 45% WEL
  • Major individual country or language other than English: 25% WEL
  • Australasia or UK: one-third WEL

The fees are increased by 50% for each additional edition (e.g. paperback, book club, audio cassette) and are reduced by 50% for scholarly works where printings are 500 copies or less. The fees for electronic rights are higher. Photocopying is charged at 13p per page per copy.

Electronic Publishing

Guidelines for Fair Dealing in an Electronic Environment, issued by the Joint Information Systems Committee and the Publishers Association (1998) at gives practical information about the application of ‘fair dealing’ to printing, copying, transmission and posting in the context of electronic publishing.

Further information about permissions is available at the websites noted above and in Hugh Jones and Christopher Benson, Publishing Law, 4th Edition (Routledge 2011).

Date last updated: 21 Jun 2013