Please note, This question is a bit different than this one: Intellectual Property Issues associated with a Public Speach?

I am trying to sell some T-shirts online by adding my artwork. At the same time, I found that some T-shirt for sale online have some well-known quotes. I wonder where the line is where a well-known quote becomes copyright infringement. I found this one https://www.redbubble.com/i/t-shirt/Your-time-is-limited-so-don-t-waste-it-living-someone-else-s-life-by-virusn1/45379132.IJ6L0.XYZ

This is a well-known quote from Steve Jobs and I assume his Intellectual Property. Can people just use it and make money off of it? Would it make a difference when the shirt also had Steve Jobs' name on it? Or what if Steve Jobs were still alive?

  • Copyright expires 25-100 years after the death of the author, depending on country. So Jobs certainly isn't dead long enough for any copyright claims inherited by his heirs to become void.
    – Philipp
    Jul 12, 2021 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


Public speeches are protected by copyright. Under the current copyright law of the that protection will not expire until 70 years after the death of the author. (Items published prior to 1978 are generally protected for 95 years after the year od publication.) In other countries the term varies, but the shortest that I know of is 25 years after the death of the author.

You could only use this presumably copyright stastemetn in one of two ways:

  1. By asking the copyright holder for permission, and getting it. The holder might now be Jobs, or someone (or some firm) that Jobs transferred the copyright to. Note that the holder has no obligation to respond to any request, and that a non-response must be taken as a "no". The holder m,ay charge any fee that s/he/it thinks proper.

  2. Under a claim of fair use (or a similar exception to copyright outside the US).This recent LAW.SE answer describes fair use in soem detail. Note that whether a given use is fair is always highly fact-based.

In the case describesd in the question, the use is commercial, and might harm a market or potential market for the author. Also it is in no significant way transformative. All of those would tend to weigh against a finding of fair use. The quote is [probably only a short excerpt of the original, which would tend to favor a fair use finding.

If you really want to make a business of this, you would be well advised to consult a lawyer with copyright experience

  • The biggest issue beyond "fair use" is implied license (i.e. that repeating the speech is impliedly authorized by the nature and context of the speech itself). Also statements of public officials in their official capacity are generally in the public domain, which covers a lot of major speeches.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 12, 2021 at 23:57
  • @ohwill I will need to look up the scope of implied license. I doubt it would apply in the case described in the question, but I am not sure. But Steve Jobs has never been a public official Jul 14, 2021 at 15:52

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