Saturday, January 18, 2020

Pro Research Tip: Internet Archive Search String

If you're a historical non-fiction writer and researcher like me, or simply conducting historical or genealogical research for personal reasons, you've probably discovered Internet Archive (found at What you may NOT know is how to limit your search to a specific time period - such as materials that exist in the public domain. 
I've created a search string that does EXACTLY that and all you have to do is copy/paste it into the Internet Archive search bar (NOT the Wayback Machine bar). Simply replace the three asterisks (***) - leaving the quotation marks as is - with your one-word or multi-word search term. And remember, you can change the dates if a public domain search is not your goal.

description:("***") AND date:[1800-01-01 TO 1924-12-31]

Happy searching!

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

"Fair Use": Four Factors You Need to Understand

"Fair Use" is one of the least understood, most litigated aspects of United States copyright law. In essence, it controls the use of other copyrighted works in your own art, writing, reviews or news reporting. The concept of Fair Use is judge-created and first surfaced in the 19th century. It was not until 1976 that Fair Use was codified by the U.S. Copyright Office.

To help both lawyers and the general public understand how previous cases were adjudicated, the Copyright Office offers a publicly accessible Fair Use Index. While it is in no way intended to replace qualified legal advice, the case summaries included in the index help researchers understand how and when judges have applied the "four-step analysis" to reach their decisions. These four deciding factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use of copyrighted work. The main question at issue here: does the new work change the function and meaning of the original by connoting a message that was previously non-existent? If so, it may well be Fair Use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Is the work you're borrowing from highly creative? Does it incorporate unique creative choices? If so, based on a review of decisions in the index, it appears more likely that Fair Use does not apply and that defendants will face a verdict of copyright infringement.
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used. This one is self-explanatory. The more of the creator's original work you use, the harder it may be to win a Fair Use argument.
  4. Future market harm. Does use of the original creation negatively impact its potential future sales and marketability? If so, it seems likely that the defendant's use will be deemed improper and damaging.

The succinct synopses of decided cases in the Fair Use Index typically run one page in length and can be downloaded as PDFs. They are not only interesting reading (plaintiffs include Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Fox News Network), these summaries also provide keen insight into the many ways defendants have run afoul of U.S. copyright laws.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

I Studied My 2019 Social Media Activity - Here's the Result

We all spend far too much time on social media - but what does it really do for us as writers? Well... when you can answer that question, let me know. What I do know (for the first time in all the years I've been using social media) is which 2019 posts actually spurred interaction.

Getting Personal

I was gobsmacked to learn that the largest percentage of reactions to my posts (a whopping 58%) resulted from the sharing of personal stories. Photos of myself (or me with family members), posts about childhood experiences, updates about my struggles and successes - those are the items that registered the most with my followers and by a long shot. These updates garnered 28% more responses than the next largest category of post.

I'm not, by nature, much of a self-marketer so it never crossed my mind that folks would want to know the "real Stephanie." Turns out I was wrong - and what a relief that is. Trying to be an "influencer" is way outside of my natural habitat. Glad to know I can just be me, and folks dig it.

Just Write - Don't Talk about It

A fairly substantial 30% of social media interactions came as a result of posts about writing or publishing. Good news because I really like sharing industry updates and thoughts about the writing process. Still, when you're a writer, most people who follow you already know it. Reminding the audience of this fact is both pompous and unnecessary. Most importantly, it's not information your general readership will slow their scroll for.

Save the Political Analysis

I try to be very, very sparse in my political posts because, quite frankly, it's a "no win" topic. And clearly, at 5% of my interactions, that's an accurate assessment on my part. In 2020, my goal is to politic even less.

It's Not News if No One Cares

Occasionally, I see a news story that I find fascinating. My assumption that others might share this enthusiasm is obviously misguided. At just a 4% interaction rate, my news stories fell on deaf ears in 2019. I'll probably still post stories about lost puppies and haunted grocery stories in 2020 - I just won't expect anyone to respond.

Ditch the Sales Pitch

The least surprising finding from my 2019 social media analysis is this one: save the sales pitch because 97% of your online community will ignore it. Which is okay, because promotion of my own books is my least posted kind of message. I'll certainly let followers know when a book is releasing, and I'll still post the occasional book giveaway. Other than that, I'll stick with the posts that share a little bit about who I am as a person. My statistics prove that's what my social media community really wants to read about.