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Marcus T. Cicero
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For most questions relating to copyrights — including the re-use of Wikiquote material and the reporting of copyright infringement — refer to the Wikipedia copyright policy, which also applies to Wikiquote. But note: though Wikiquote content is licensed under the GFDL, much of the content on Wikiquote is derivative of copyrighted material and is used under the "fair use" clause of U.S. copyright law.

Copyrights and quotations

Despite what many people think, quotations can be copyrighted if they have been previously published, like any form of work. Though many works are in the public domain, many are not, and require some consideration before using. Because Wikiquote is "published" in the United States, U.S. copyright law contains the relevant statutes for the project.

Fair use

Most quotations, because of their short size, are not considered as copyright infringement because they fall under the "fair use" clause of U.S. copyright law. "Fair use" of copyrighted materials is formally determined by a court of law when one party sues another for copyright infringement.

Courts have generally relied on a four-factor test for whether or not a given "use" of copyrighted materials is "fair":

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit, educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The Wikiquote resource appears to fall under acceptable and fair usage based on the first criterion shown above, in that the purpose of the quotations on Wikiquote is educational, and Wikiquote is run by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. However, quoted portions of existing works must be considered within the framework of the last three criteria.

Based on criterion number two, one must consider the very nature of the copyrighted work in advance of publishing a quote from that source. This may concern which media is involved (music, film, book).

Based on criterion number three, one must consider the proportionality of the quotation to the work as a whole. If the quotations which are taken from a copyrighted work are not a very small amount compared to the copyrighted work as a whole, their use will likely not be "fair use".

Based on criterion number four, furthermore, depending on the type of copyrighted work the quotation is taken from, it may potentially affect the future market for the copyright holder. For example, in two previous court cases, the violative quotes were far shorter than one might expect. In one case, noting also that the quotes were used for for-profit enterprises, courts ruled that as few as forty-one quotations from the Seinfeld television series were sufficient to negatively affect the ability of the copyright holder to earn profits from their own quotation and trivia books.[1]

Presentation copyright

Although the use of quotes is often covered by fair use, a separate copyright can still be claimed on the arrangement, presentation, and selection of quotes. Do not simply copy and paste a list of quotes from a website, or they will be deleted.


Generally, it is suggested that only short quotations and their references be used, even when permissible.

It is important, especially when quoting from things such as movies and television series, but also other published works, to make sure that there are not too many quotes from any single copyrighted work. Be especially careful not to take too many quotations from a single television or movie series (which could potentially be held under one large copyright claim as well as per-episode copyright claims).

If this simple rule is followed, most Wikiquote use of copyrighted materials should easily fall under the "fair use" clause. For more information on the "fair use" clause, see the Wikipedia article on the subject.

If you believe that a given article has too many quotes or excerpts from a copyrighted work on it, please add the text {{checkcopyright}} to its talk page. This will cause it to go into a queue for review and possible revision.

Licensing and downstream use

Any material produced specifically by editors of Wikiquote — which may include the selection and arrangement of quotes — is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Most quotations are, by their nature, either from public domain sources or copyrighted sources, and are subject to their own licensing requirements (or lack thereof) aside from any imposed by Wikiquote.


  • The Sopranos - I tagged it with {{copyvio}}. There are WAY, WAY, WAY too many copyrighted quotes that the page is almost 400 kilobytes. Some computers have trouble accessing such huge, huge pages. Discuss here. Brendan Filone 15:41, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
    • I removed this tag because I believe it to be a bad-faith edit as part of a widespread sockpuppet battle. (I have also blocked Brendan Filone as a suspected sockpuppet and for arrogating sysop actions — a tactic of sockpuppet Zarbon — by signing my name to block notices Brendan posted.) However, the issue is quite valid, and should be addressed by editors. ~ Jeff Q (talk) 16:39, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
      • I have flagged this article with {{checkcopyright}} and intend to trim it down a week from now unless someone beats me to it. ~ Jeff Q (talk) 20:16, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King — I flagged all three of these articles last week and have just posted an announcement on the last that I intend to do some severe trimming in a week if Return is not otherwise edited down in this time. I don't imagine this will be popular, but since these articles have been used as excuses by other copyright violators, I feel we should start with these to avoid showing favoritism. Copyvio doesn't cease to be so just because we really, really like the works. ~ Jeff Q (talk) 04:23, 6 August 2007 (UTC)
    • The first edition of The Lord of the Rings is out of copyright in the United States thanks to a quirk in U.S. copyright law of the time. Legal publication of a "pirate" first edition by another publisher is why Tolkien prepared the second edition that is the one now published. I doubt most of these quotes come from only the second edition. 17:22, 18 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Charles A. Kupchan needs review while I wonder if it is absolutely necessary to quote long paragraphs and the subject has 42900 Ghits but no Wikipedia article.--Jusjih 21:14, 10 June 2008 (UTC)