Copyright Research

Copyright office sealWriters frequently ask about whether they need permission to quote from another book. The answer is usually yes. But if the book is in the public domain that permission is unnecessary. I don’t want to tackle the issue of “Fair Use” today, but instead provide a few links that you can use to find out if a book is in the public domain, or not.

First, use this form (
This form searches the U. S. copyright renewal records database. Any book published during the years 1923-1963 which is found in this file is still under copyright, as are all books published after 1964 (although until 1989 they still had to have proper notice and registration).  Books published before 1923, or before Jan. 1, 1964 and not renewed (in the 28th year after publication), are out of copyright and therefore in the public domain. The form only searches books, not music, etc.

Cornell University has provided a very helpful chart to determine if an existing Work is still covered by copyright, see

11 Responses to Copyright Research

  1. Sharon Gillenwater June 29, 2009 at 10:21 am #

    Good links to have. Thanks, Steve!

  2. jeannie June 29, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    What about quotes from songs?

    • Steve June 30, 2009 at 9:11 am #

      ALWAYS get permission when quoting a song lyric, unless you are certain the song lyric is in the public domain (like a hymn from the 1800s).

      Here is a link to a new lawsuit filed today. In it Microsoft, Yahoo, and Rhapsody are being sued for their music stores. The claim is that they licensed the “music performance” rights but not the “composition” rights. In other words they are streaming the music and the lyrics but only licensed the music. Read the article if you want all the details. It includes a link to the 104 page lawsuit document.


  3. Ellie Kay June 30, 2009 at 6:17 am #

    Hey Steve,

    Great idea to start a blog. This is really helpful, timely, and informative.

    What about quoting our own work but from a different publisher?

    • Steve June 30, 2009 at 9:15 am #

      Good question. Even though you are the author of the works, you signed a “grant of rights” to the publisher when you signed the contract. As part of those “grant of rights” the publisher controls the use, in printed form, of the content of your book.

      So if you quote yourself in a book with another publisher, you absolutely must get permission from the first publisher. And you might even have to pay a permission fee! Yes it would feel weird to pay to cite your own work, but be prepared for that possibility.

      I mention this in the FAQ section of our agency’s web site, but I’ll repeat it here:
      “We know of two publishers that have a much more stringent policy than this. One demands that permission be obtained from any source or quote of over 25 words…not 250. Another requires the author, in a non-fiction book, to obtain releases from every person quoted in the book. This includes spouse, parents, family members, etc. Make sure you know what your publisher requires before you start writing your book.”

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  6. Catherine Hudson October 31, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    Thanks! That’s really helpful. What about quoting a book title only – as in a character uses that title to name something (fiction here of course). Or quoting movie lines – even if the move title is then mentioned?

    • Steve Laube October 31, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Mentioning a book title is not a problem. But quoting lines from a movie might be a problem…depending on how litigious the owners of script will be. See the link here where the William Faulkner estate is suing people for small quotations.

      • Catherine Hudson October 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

        Thanks so much Steve – that really helps. I think that’s a real shame though. People often quote things and it makes for great banter between characters – in fact, I believe it ‘keeps alive’ the works and words of others that may otherwise be forgotten. Its a money making venture it you ask me to sue anyone and everyone regarding quotes.


  1. tolle lege - March 6, 2010

    [...] Century (White Hall, WV; Tolle Lege Press, 2008) … Mail (will not be published) (required) …Copyright Research | Steve LaubeWriters frequently ask about whether they need permission to quote from another book. The answer is [...]

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