Ask Author Law

Is it OK to use an Amazon reader review in a blurb?

August 21, 2016

Tags: Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Right of Publicity, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, IP Law, Intellectual Property, Journalism, Libel, Fiction, Back Matter, Reviews, Amazon, Advertising

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. Questions may be sent to authorlaw@yahoo.com.

Q: I belong to an online discussion group for independent authors who publish their own novels. Right now there is a discussion going on about whether it is a copyright violation to use an Amazon reader review in a blurb for another book by the same author inserted in the back matter at the end of the book. Some people say that quoting the reader review is fair use and others say itís not. Someone also pointed out that it might be a violation of Federal Trade Commission rules. Whatís the right answer?

A: This isnít really a copyright issue. The most important legal question is the reviewerís right of publicity. Copyright is secondary at best.

The right of publicity is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, and reputation. It is a violation of the right of publicity to use a personís name, image, or reputation for commercial purposes without consent. Using a person in an advertisement, product endorsement, or on commercial goods without specific permission is a clear and actionable violation of his or her right of publicity.

In the case of a book the right answer to your question relies on an important distinction in the nature of the use -- whether it is editorial or commercial. Books are editorial in nature and therefore exempt from most right of publicity concerns. Editorial use is not commercial use, even if a writer or publication earns money in the editorial process.

Beyonce provides a classic example. The first amendment protects an authorís right to write about her in such editorial works as novels, non-fiction books, news stories, and articles. Such use of a personís name or image does not violate her right to publicity. It would be fine, for example, to have a character in a novel attend a Beyonce concert or profess an opinion about Beyonce in dialogue. However, Beyonceís right of publicity prohibits the use her name in advertising, endorsements, or other commercial uses.

The right question to be asking in this case is whether the use of the Amazon reader review is editorial or commercial. The book itself is definitely editorial, but using the reader review in the back matter of one book to promote the authorís other books constitutes, in my opinion, an advertisement. Therefore, itís essential to have the consent of any individuals used in promotions, ads, and blurbs. Further, that consent should be in writing. It is definitely not OK to copy a reader review off Amazon and paste it into the back matter Ė or to use it for promotional purposes anywhere else.

Questions of copyright arise, if at all, in cases of posting anonymous reviews or excerpts from long reviews. Such posts without consent would infringe the reviewerís copyright unless there is a legitimate fair use defense. Fair use analysis is complex and lawyers can disagree, but I donít think such use would be fair under most circumstances.