Louisville, KY asked in Copyright, Intellectual Property and Native American Law for Kentucky

Q: I want to ask for clarification on how copyright works. Are quotes from people before 1923 also copyright free?

Quotes by genghis khan and Jane Austen to be specific. And does just changing the grammar of works in public domain, enough of change to grant copyright protection?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Native American Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: In general, works published before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States, which includes quotes from individuals such as Genghis Khan and Jane Austen. This means these quotes are not protected by copyright and can be used freely.

However, the situation regarding altering works that are in the public domain is more nuanced. Simply changing the grammar or making minor edits to a public domain work does not usually grant new copyright protection. Copyright law typically requires a work to have a certain level of originality and creativity. Mere changes in grammar or minor edits might not meet this threshold.

It's important to consider the extent and nature of the changes made. If the alterations are substantial and contribute new expression, interpretation, or form, then the new work might be eligible for copyright protection. This could include, for example, a new analysis or adaptation of a public domain work.

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