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Are famous quotes copyrighted?

New York, NY |

I am compiling and self-publishing a book of my photography and plan on using quotes by celebrities, writers, artists, etc. as additional commentary to the photos. I have tried to familiarize myself with the fair use doctrine, but find it doesn't address my specific issue. Would I need permission to use and publish individual quotes or is this type of use permitted by the fair use doctrine?

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

In general, copyright law does not protect a slogan or short phrase (this is the realm of trademark law) . Trademark law does not seem applicable here because trademarks identify goods and services - the slogan or phrase would be applied to a particular good or service and that is not where you are getting your quotes from. -

There are scenarios where your use of quotes could rise to the level of a copyright infringement - at least theoretically. For example - if you lifted an entire selection of quotes that someone else published as a compilation, in which all of the quotes were linked by a common theme and the grouping reflected independent thought and expression, then further analysis by an intellectual property lawyer would be appropriate to see if the amount of material you selected from such a source resulted in sufficient similarity to constitute an infringement.

Fair use is a defense to copyright infringement and since you have not given enough information here to suggest the analysis would even be necessary, it makes no sense to go into a discussion of the elements of the defense here or how they might apply (though I will say that your purpose is a commercial one which mitigates against a finding of fair use).

There is one other area of law which you apparently have not considered and that is the right of publicity - which everyone has (including the celebrities whose quotes you want to use). The right of publicity is designed to prevent the unauthorized commercial use of an individual's name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of a person's persona.

I raise the issue because any one of the celebrities could object to your use of their names and quotes to promote sales of your book or make it more marketable. Naturally, if these celebrities were commenting on the individual photos with which you are pairing the quotes, it might make a difference. However, since you are considered with copyrights, it seems like a fair inference to draw that the quotes themselves were not made with your photos in mind. All the more reason for you to meet with an intellectual property attorney before proceeding with this aspect of your plan.

Frank A. Natoli

Frank A. Natoli


Well put...

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick



1. Short words or phrases are not protected by copyright.
2. If a work is not fixed in a tangible medium it is not afforded copyright.
3. What people are you talking about? Are they from the 1800s? If copyright did apply to the quote you want to use it might have expired.

Fair use is a defense, it will not prevent you from getting sued.

You should consult with an attorney to confirm.


My colleagues are correct, Copyright does not protect slogans or quotes individually, however a compilation of quotes may be entitled to copyright protection.
If you are an attorney it should not be a problem taking a semester of education about fair use, otherwise it is like a butcher learning surgery, totally useless. Talk to you favorite IP Attorney who will review with you the details and will keep you out of trouble. Publishing is not a legally do it yourself project, you should have a Copyright attorney in your telephone's speed dial, you will need it guaranteed.

USPTO Registered Patent Attorney, Master of Intellectual Property law, MBA I am neither your attorney, nor my answers or comments in create an attorney-client relationship with you. You may accept or disregard my free advice in at your own risk. I am a Patent Attorney, admitted to the USPTO and to the Florida Bar.


Attorney Dinicola offered an excellent overview.

As noted, generally speaking using quotes will be fine. I would not insinuate that you have any endorsement or association with any particular person or brand and keep in mind that some quotes are used as trademarks and in some probably rare instances someone may protest against your use on those grounds.

You may want to discuss with a lawyer in private and most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

Best regards,
Natoli-Lapin, LLC
(see Disclaimer)

The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. 866-871-8655 DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.

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