Your hypothetical posits that the original phrase serves as a trademark. The rule is that it's unlawful
to display on any product or advertsing:
(1) a "famous" trademark owned by someone else [e.g., "Just Do It"] or one that's confusingly similar [e.g., "Just Did It"] and
(2) a non-famous trademark owned by someone else [e.g., "It's Always 901"] or one that's confusingly similar ["It's Never 901"] if affixed to a product that's the same or one related to the product already branded with that trademark.
Your hypothetical also posits that the original phrase is associated with a famous person. If it's CLOSELY associated with that person and the person is alive or has been dead for less than 70 years then displaying the phrase on a product may well be an unlawful appropriation of that person's "right of publicity." Via the link below, you can read why in the Hilton v. Hallmark Cards case where the court let go to trial Paris Hilton's right of publicity claim against Hallmark for its display of "That's Hot" on a greeting card [with other, more subtle references to Hilton]. Because Hilton is closely associated with that phrase it's a factual question whether Hallmark misappropriated her right of publicity by using it commercially.
You've also posited that the phrase is copyrightable. If the altered phrase is "substantially similar" to the original then displaying the altered phrase [on a product or elsewhere] is copyright infringement absent an applicable defense.
You need to speak with your own intellectual property attorney to apply these general rules to your actual, real-life business plans. Hypotheticals are fine teaching tools -- but they CANNOT substitute for legal advice. Good luck.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.Ask a similar question
This apparently will be your business, your livelihood. You need specific legal advice, not vague generalities. Hire an attorney, and ask him or her if particular phrases are going to be problems for you.
By the very nature of Avvo, you have only provided limited facts and no documentation, therefore, our response to your question is treated only as a hypothetical, and as such it is merely general in nature. You should not rely on this response in taking or forgoing action in your circumstances without discussing this matter with an attorney. If we had the opportunity to ask you sufficient questions and review relevant documents so that we were satisfied we had all of the relevant facts and circumstances, our response might differ significantly. Without the opportunity to ask you questions, and review all relevant documents and memoranda, we are simply unable to provide any form of legal advice. Our response to your question does not create any attorney-client relationship between us, and we are not acting as your attorney. We reserve the right to decline representation in any case. By answering your question, we are under no obligation to answer further questions. There are very specific deadlines for filing a lawsuit, replying to a lawsuit filed against you, or taking other action in order to preserve your legal rights. You should contact an attorney immediately in order to be fully advised of your rights, and so that you are aware of those deadlines. If you fail to act within the required time frame, you might be forever barred from asserting your rights or defending your position. The attorney answering this question is licensed in Illinois and Iowa only.Ask a similar question
Short phrases, including quotes, are not generally protected.
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Yes, you can use quotes from famous people and print them on t-shirts, especially if they have been dead for a long time. However, be forewarned that the estates of certain people are aggressive in suing for use of quotes (e.g., the MLK estate) and, even though many legal scholars disagree with their assertions, then can make things expensively difficult.
The response by Bryan Bockhop is given for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. It does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader and it may not be relied upon any person reading the response. One should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to this inquiry.Ask a similar question
AS noted, using quotes will generally be permitted. This is largely because using what amounts to a very small portion of a much larger body of work will not be considered copyright infringement and short phrases or small groups of words are not protected under copyright law. Now in some cases, especially where the work from which the quote was pulled is widely recognizable (the money part; like the chorus of a very famous song for example) it may be a copyright infringement issue.
That said, some phrases are being employed as trademarks (slogans or taglines) and you need to be careful that whatever you use will not be considered infringing. In most cases, this will probably be obvious but certainly not in all.
Further, using the names and likenesses of authors can easily become a publicity and privacy rights issue, especially if it seems that you are playing off of their celebrity and name recognition.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.Ask a similar question