If I designed wallpaper, linens, etc. with various quotes and cite the author, do I have to get permission and pay the writers?

Many of the quotes would be from deceased individuals but some would also be by living people.

Asked on November 12, 2014 under Business Law, Wisconsin


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

If you are using material that is still in copyright than you need the permission of whomever owns the copyright--otherwise you would be in violation of copyright, and would be liable to them for damages (and possibly subject to a court order to destroy your inventory and stop using the material). Typically, such permission is given in exchange for payment (a licensing fee), but the rights holder also has the right to not give permission at all.

Whether or not the author is dead is not a reliable indicator of whether the material is still in copyright: if there is still time left on the copyright, and there often will be for material less than (approximately; this is a rule of thumb, since determining exact duration of copyright must be done on a case-by-case basis) 75 years, the rights then go to whomever inherited them, or was gifted or sold them while the author was alive, etc.

You need to research each quote; determine if it is still in copyright or is in the "public domain" (no longer or not copyrighted); and then negotiate with the rights holder for permission if it is copyrighted.

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