Do I need permission to use quotes in my book

Do I need permission to use quotes in my book? If you don’t have permission or are not using the quotation in a way that is considered “fair use” then you run the risk of being sued.

Students in my eBook Bestseller Bootcamp raise this question often so I thought I would do some research on the topic.

Unfortunately there is no cut and dry answer regarding how to legally use quotations in your book so every author needs to make a judgement call on whether to take the risk. Some of the factors to consider are;

1. Was the quote made before 1923?

If the quote was made before 1923 then it is probably in the public domain and is safe to use. However this does not apply to old advertising slogans which may be trademarked.

2. Are you quoting a fact?

Are you quoting a fact, a book title, a song title, or someone’s name you do not need permission. Such things cannot be protected by copyright. You also don’t need permission to include links in your eBook.

3. Is it “fair use”?

If you use someone’s copyrighted material in such a way that it might not be considered fair use, then you should ask for explicit permission. Even though in the video above I said that you should credit the source, please note that doing this does not remove the obligation to seek permission. It is expected that you always credit your source regardless of fair use; otherwise, you are plagiarizing.

The four factors judges consider to determine fair use are:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

For more detailed articles on these four factors see these sites:

What Is Fair Use?

Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors

The bottom line is that it is impossible to determine if the way you are using a quotation is fair use or not. Not only does it depend on the four factors above, it also depends on the Judge’s bias, and on how aggressive the copyright holder is.

Doing this research as made me think twice about using quotations in my books. In future I will use pre-1923 quotes and ask myself, “is this quotation absolutely necessary?” If it isn’t then I won’t use it.


Geoff Affleck

Geoff Affleck is a 5-time #1 bestselling author and creator and facilitator for the eBook Bestseller Bootcamp for aspiring self-help authors.

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