I want to use a couple of lines from "What is life?" by Erwin Schrödinger as a quote on the front of my thesis. Would I need permission from the publisher or would that be covered by fair use? Also, do I need to attribute the quote properly?

In my thesis, I have:

The quote from Erwin

-- Erwin Schrödinger - What is life?

I reside in Germany so EU laws would apply.


I want to use a couple of lines from "What is life?" by Erwin Schrödinger as quote on the front of my thesis. Would i need permission for that form publisher or would that be convered in fair use?

There are close cases of fair use, but this is not one of them. This is unequivocally and clearly fair use. It is a brief excerpt of a much larger body of work, it is for non-commercial use by a student, and it is for educational and academic purposes (presumably to advance science).

Also do i need to attribute the quote properly

Yes. This is necessary both because of the moral rights of the author under E.U. copyright law (assuming that works by Erwin Schrödinger are still in copyright), and for reasons of academic ethical considerations.

It is still in copyright, because he died on January 4, 1961, which is 58 years ago. So, in countries that protect copyrights for the life of the author plus 50 years (the minimum required by the Berne Convention) this is out of copyright, but in countries that protect copyrights for the life of the author plus 70 years (e.g. Germany), the copyright is still in force until January 4, 2031.

Also, even if the work were out of copyright, as a matter of academic integrity, you would be required to attribute the quote in an academic thesis in any case.

Quoting someone without attribution in academic work is considered plagiarism, and could result in your thesis being stricken and also in your degree being revoked in a serious case. Government ministers in the E.U. have been forced to resign over plagiarism in their academic work as students in recent years. This is taken much more seriously in Europe than it is in the U.S.

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  • hey thanks for the descriptive and helpful reply. Would just saying Quote -Erwin Schrödinger, What is life? like I wrote in the question qualify as proper attribution? Or should I use the proper citation method, for example using [1] and in references 1. Erwin Schördinger, what is life, page number xx, chapter xx ? – hadi k Apr 4 '19 at 5:14
  • Normally, something along the lines of the latter is how citations are usually done in academic work and it has become commonplace to even include end note citations in an abstract of a thesis in some fields like physics and anthropology where I read a lot of academic papers. There are several competing systems in existence in the U.S. for citation forms en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citation and I expect that Germany has its own style conventions rather than following U.S. examples on how this is done. Your thesis should follow a consistent citation style that is approved by your institution. – ohwilleke Apr 4 '19 at 21:32

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