Friday, August 6, 2010

Using Movie Quotes: Frankly, my dear, we don't give a ....

Dear Rich: I'm wondering about using quotations (just a sentence or two from celebrities both living and dead) in a book of quotes that I'm compiling. First of all, if the book was only a collection of quotes and each person is credited and I am listed as the compiler, is it okay? I would be selling this book - it would be a quotation compilation similar to Barlett's, etc., but focused on specific topics such as "Quotes on Love from Old Hollywood." Secondly, if I use a quote from a celebrity to start off each chapter in a book, then write in my own words a few pages of what I think about each quote and my interpretation of them, is that okay? I would be selling that book, too - it would be more of an advice book written by me using quotes to start off topics/ideas. I'm thinking that even though I am selling the books, each quote from each person would be such a small part of the overall compilation or writing that it would count as fair use, right? Kind of. Short answer dept. We think you're okay with all of your proposed uses. Your ability to create this book is partially based on fair use, partially based on the fact that copyright doesn't protect short phrases, and partially based on the fact that some of the quotes are so short as to qualify as being "trivial" or "de minimis" uses. 
Stopping others from copying your work. You'll be able to claim copyright in your original contributions as well as your choice/selection of quotes (referred to as a compilation copyright). By the way, these rules work if you're compiling many quotes into a book. They probably won't apply if you are taking one quote and placing it on a poster or t-shirt. In those cases, a movie company can go after you, like they went after merchandisers who used "E.T. Phone Home."