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I have a book of quotations that displays a 1967 copyright. I would like to use some of them in a current work of mine that I intend to publish.

Many of the quotations in the 1967 book I can trace back to sources, the copyrights of which have expired. However, there are some I cannot—though the quotes themselves were uttered more than 95 years ago. Also, I am quite certain that their written sources (which I have not located) would have been published more than 95 years ago.

QUESTION: Legally, may I extract quotes from the copyrighted 1967 book and incorporate them into my book, which I intend to publish in the United States?

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The copyright on the book of quotations protects the collection. That is, it protects the author's choice of which quotations to include, and of what order to list them in. It also covers any division of them into groups or categories, and any added text (intros, comments, and so on) written by the author. It does not protect the quotations themselves. As those are not the original work of the author, s/he can have no copyright in them.

Any quotes that are in the public domain (through expiration of copyright, or otherwise) may be used freely. Any others are protected by copyright. However the use of a short quotation is often fair use under US law, or is subject to another exception to copyright elsewhere. But that depends very much on the details of the factual situation.

So quotes with expired copyrights are safe to use. Others may well be safe if they are relatively short, and proper attribution is given.

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  • Is there a limit to the number of quotes someone can copy from the collection before infringing on the collection copyright?
    – bdsl
    Sep 28, 2022 at 21:36
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    @bdsl: Under US law: It's complicated, see Feist v. Rural, but in short, the collection copyright only covers the collection as a whole, and doesn't prohibit you from using the collection as a source for making your own collection... but if your collection is substantially similar to theirs, then it may infringe. Under other countries' laws: sui generis database rights may apply. Ask a separate question for more specific information.
    – Kevin
    Sep 28, 2022 at 22:14
  • @Kevin Feist is not really on-point here. That said tht a publicartion that is not an original work has no protection at all, not even a collection copyright. There are a number of US cases on the scope of a collection copyright, that could well be a separate question. But if a new work consisted largely of the same items as those in a previous collection, in the same or a similar order, it might well be infringing. Sep 29, 2022 at 0:13
  • @DavidSiegel: Feist has extensive dicta which are entirely on point here.
    – Kevin
    Sep 29, 2022 at 7:56
  • @Kevin Feist v. Rural was about raw data such as telephone numbers and addresses. There's almost no creative decision about what to include or not. The process is simply: do I know the phone number, name, address? If yes, include it. If not, exclude it. Repeat the process to compile the whole directory. There are some protected elements like the style in which it is presented. I'm not sure if the "order" would be a protectable part of the expression if it's a common or standard ordering such as alphabetical, chronological, etc.
    – Brandin
    Sep 29, 2022 at 8:25

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