Can you customize your product with a quote? How to navigate the “legal jungle”

It’s time to clear up a long-lasting topic for all campaign creators: can we use quote from songs, movies or celebrities? Does it constitute a violation of intellectual property rights? We are fully aware that the internet is full of quotes and this is why we attempt to shed some light on this – quite complicated – topic: the commercial use of quotes. So, let’s take a walk through this “legal jungle”!


Let’s go straight to the point: quotes are considered intellectual property, which is protected by law. Books, articles, songs, poems and other works are protected by copyright law whether they are published or not. (Did you know that even Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” has been cleared on copyright infringement? This is because Owen Wilson used an unauthorized quote by William Faulkner in a dialogue).


You need permission to quote from them unless an exception to copyright protection applies. This is why they shall not be included on your designs. However, there are a few exceptions under which you are still obliged to name the original author to respect his or her moral rights (this can be either in your design or in your description).


● For long-dead historical figures (including Shakespeare, Seneca, and Baudelaire…), you do not need to ask for anyone’s permission to use quotes because their works have fallen into the public domain approximately 70 years after their death (the duration of copyright protection may slightly vary from country to country). For more recent works, it all depends on whether the quotes have been copyrighted and registered as trademarks in one or several countries.


● When does a copyright expire? It varies from country to country, but the average is between 50 to 70 years after the death of the original author (or the last one of them if it’s a collaborative work). In the United States, the current copyright length for anything copyrighted is 70 years after the author’s death. Therefore, any person can quote a work of art if it’s public domain.


Parodies: you can use modified bits and pieces of a quote to create a parody. However, be aware that if you use too offensive language, you might face legal problems. Always put yourself in the shoes of the author, asking yourself: what would he or she think of it? Be original and respectful!


Anthems: national anthems are not copyrighted, so feel free to use part of the lyrics in your design.


To sum it all up: we strongly suggest that you do not include quotes if you don’t have the authorization to use them for commercial purposes and to carefully check whether a slogan is protected under the intellectual property law before launching your campaigns and ads. Be original, take some bits from a famous slogan and recreate your own motto. If you have any question or doubt, feel free to contact our legal team >>