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I run a self-improvement oriented community. I continuously read books, some of them quite famous, and provide a summary along with textual quotations from each of the books reviewed.

Now here's the thing:

I do charge for access to this and there is no other content in the site aside from the reviews of all these books for whom I, obviously, haven't acquired an explicit license to reproduce them.

I do not know if what I'm doing falls under a fair use doctrine.

The content of the review usually contains no more than 4 or 5 sentences which are quoted verbatim from the book. Aside from that is pretty much "what the book is all about" in my own words.

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You don't give a jurisdiction, but from the DMCA tag I'm assuming you are interested in the USA.

There is no hard rule about what counts as "fair use". The law lists 4 factors for courts to take into account:

  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.

From what you say your usage is much the same as any book reviewer; you quote to illustrate the contents, not to replace them. Your quotes are only a small fraction of the works you review, and your reviews and summaries do not replace the works (i.e. people can't avoid buying the book because they get all the important stuff just from your quotes). As such your site is probably fair use.

The trouble is that the only way to find out for sure is if someone sues you and you fight them in court. Then the judge has the final word. Until then its a matter of opinion.

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