Is it considered "fair use/fair dealing" to quote a short sentence or two from a book who's copyright statement mentions only "All rights reserved"?

I'm writing a book and explaining some concept. To drive the point home I add a quote from another book (the one one with "All rights reserved"). I mention from which author the quote is and from which of his book. I provide all the details of the book, ISBN, publisher, everything. The quote is short. A sentence or two.

I will later be selling my book.

Do I still need to get permission from the author or is this fair use?

  • 1
    Where will the book be published? Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 17:52
  • @MichaelSeifert: On Amazon, for starters. Self-published.
    – Pips
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 20:30
  • Note that when you publish on Amazon, you have to either select "worldwide rights" or select specific territories where you have the rights to distribute the work. If you're risk-averse but you want your book to have wide distribution, you'll need to know the answer to this question for every jurisdiction you choose to publish in, which would make this question pretty broad. Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 20:44

4 Answers 4


(Note: the answer below deals with US copyright law only.)

There are specific carve-out in the "fair use" law for "scholarship" and "research":

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The US Copyright Office has some more information about how courts have interpreted fair use, as does Nolo. Going through these criteria one by one:

  1. A work that is commercial is less likely to be fair use. A work that is "transformative", meaning that it serves a different purpose than the original, is more likely to be fair use.

  2. Quoting from a factual work (such as an encyclopedia) is more likely to be fair use than quoting from a creative or imaginative work (such as a novel).

  3. The less quoted, the better. If the quoted material is peripheral to the primary purpose of the quoted work, it is more likely to be fair use than if it's "the heart of the work". (As an example, The Nation was once found to have violated fair use because it quoted verbatim the section of Gerald Ford's memoirs that dealt with the Nixon pardon — even though the quoted section was less than 0.2% of the entire work.)

  4. If your work will be directly competing with the original work in the market, it is less likely to be fair use.

Nolo also notes that

Quoting a short passage in a scholarly, scientific, or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author's observations would be deemed acceptable. An art historian would be able to use an image of a painting in an academic article that analyzes the painting.

Finally: even if you check every one of these boxes, the law is not 100% crystal clear, and there's still a chance that you'll get sued. While you might prevail in court, you'd still have to go through the hassle of defending your work; or alternately, you'd have to pull it from the market. For this reason, it may be worth your peace of mind to seek permission from the copyright holders anyhow, or to consult a legal professional.


The phrase "All rights reserved" was required under the Buenos Aires Convention a copyright treaty dating from 1910. All parties to the Buenos Aires Convention have now signed the Berne Copyright Convention which is adhered to by all but a handful of countries, making the Buenos Aires Convention effectively obsolete Therefore, the phrase "All rights reserved" no longer has any legal effect beyond the effect of a basic copyright notice -- that is, it prevents an infringer from claiming that s/he did not know the work was protected by copyright. It is also a fairly clear indication that the work has not been released under a permissive license, such as a Creative Commons License or any "copy-left" license.

The presence of the phrase "All rights reserved" does not make any particular use more or less likely to be ruled a fair use.

A quote of "a short sentence or two" from a book with proper attribution is highly likely to be considered fair use under US law, and may well be "fair dealing" under UK and Commonwealth law, but the detailed facts will be relevant to any such decision.

You could certainly ask for permission instead of relying on the doctrine of fair use. But if the author or publisher refuses, does not answer, or proposes to charge a fee or impose significantly restrictive conditions, you could always fall back on fair use.


The declaration "All rights reserved" has the same effect as the declaration "Copying will be punished by life in prison": none. With no statement, copyright law says what you can and cannot do. A statement can be added to grant a right normally reserved to the copyright holder, but cannot take away a right statutorily granted. Your described use is the paradigm example of fair use, so you have that right and do not require permission. If you ask permission and are denied, you can still legally copy the sentence or two. However, you will also know that the copyright holder is more likely to sue for infringement compared to the case where they grant permission. You can always sue: the courts can always dismiss the suit when you show that you have permission. Fair use is an affirmative defense, meaning that when they prove that you copied and did not have permission, you have to prove that it is allowed by law.

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    What the language "All rights reserved" is doing legally is countering an interpretation of the work that includes an implied license to use it for a particular purpose. For example, if you publish MS Word templates or fonts, you doctrinally give someone an implied license to use them for their intended purposes in other works. It isn't obvious what kind of implied licenses might be associated with a book, but the language is intended to prevent anything other than the minimum amounts of fair use allowed by law to arise by implication.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 18:33
  • I do not believe fair use is as black and white as this answer indicates. Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 19:51
  • I believe it is for the specific example. This is the reason why "fair use" was encoded in copyright law.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 20:05

Sometimes, you can use one sentence or two as fair use, but it is better to ask permission.

The company that published the book should have someone you can talk to about obtaining permission.

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