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Tips and Tricks: Public Domain Quotations

June 26, 2014

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Copyright and public domain are tricky and sometimes murky legal areas. In general – though exceptions exist – works published before 1923 are considered public domain in the United States. On our Artist Resources page, you’ll find links to a number of articles we’ve published regarding copyright and public domain.

Some artists would like to use motivational and inspirational quotes on their greeting cards. It’s worth noting that if you want to use a quote from someone, just because they’re deceased doesn’t mean their work is in the public domain. Here’s a table from Wikimedia Commons that explains how copyright works in the U.S.

public domain table wikimedia

As you can see, things can be quite complicated. For example, some of the poet Emily Dickinson’s work remains under copyright and would therefore be unacceptable to GCU.

While you will still always need to do your research homework to figure out if a work you want to use is actually in the public domain or not, one possible source for pre-1923 quotations is Bartleby.com which contains numerous quotation sources. Here are some other resources that you may find helpful:

Project Gutenberg contains public domain books of quotations, toasts and sayings which can be downloaded in e-book format or viewed in HTML on the site.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library contains many public domain Christian works, though some parts of a PD work, such as an Introduction, might still be copyrighted. See their Copyright page for more information. Be aware Bible quotations on this site are from the copyrighted English Standard Version (and they have permission to use, you don’t).

Google Books has digitized a number of public domain quotations books.

Again, we remind you to double-check any public domain work you intend to use in your designs. Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free to use as you wish.

Don’t forget that if you use a public domain quote, you will need to include a link to the source for the Review Team in your Notes to Reviewers (same thing goes for public domain images). Have fun!

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