Dear Rich: Can I quote four lines of Emily Dickinson's poetry in my novel without penalty? She lived approximately 139 years ago. We wish we could say that Emily's poetry is in the public domain but the definitive unedited versions of Dickinson's poems are said to have first been published in 1955 (even though Emily died in 1866). The 1955 edition was renewed and is under copyright until 2050 (95 years from the date of publication). (BTW, a 1998 edition -- scroll to bottom of this article -- of her poems is said to be the first version to correctly preserve Dickinson's punctuation.) Earlier edited works of Dickinson were published before 1923 and are in the public domain, so if you use these versions, you're home free. You can read more about Harvard University's claims to copyright over Dickinson's works, here. Regardless of whether the poetry is in the public domain, you have a good chance of success with a fair use argument because you are using such a short segment and for fictional purposes. You can review other fair use cases, here.