Quotes and Copyright Laws

Thank you to Holly Kammier for this information…

For long dead historical persons, you do not have to obtain permission from anyone to use quotes. You can use as many quotes as you want. Any copyright Shakespeare may have enjoyed for his works and utterances has long expired. On more recent works, it all depends if the remarks were copyrighted and when and if the copyright was renewed. But even so, you may be able to use small portions without breaking copyright law. If the quote is 100 or more years old, it is absolutely safe under copyright law.

While it does vary from country to country, copyrights typically last between 50 to 70 years. In the United States, the current copyright length for anything copyrighted after January 1, 1978 is 70 years after the author’s death. So this means that if an author obtained their copyright in 1990 and does not die until 2007, their copyright does not expire until 2077. At that point, their quotations can be used freely without any permission under copyright law.

Any writings or utterances from authors who have been deceased since 1910 are safe to use. This means that Shakespeare, Poe, Wordsworth, and Blake are all safe to use. You can also use lyrics or music from composers such as Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven without fear of a copyright lawsuit.

Yes. You must find an original quote or original copy to use. Any translations or adaptations by another author will have a renewed copyright. For example, you cannot put Josh Groban’s version of “Oh Holy Night” in your company’s Christmas commercial without his express permission, because his arrangement and performance of the song is copyrighted to him. In addition, you can quote scripture from the King James and New King James versions of the Bible without consequence. However, the New American Standard Translation is copyrighted and cannot be quoted without permission from its publisher.

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