Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Feb 20, 2013

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

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.