Sometimes I see quotes or poems at the beginning of a peer-reviewed article. I am guessing that there are some copyright laws to consider here. How does one check whether or not a quote or a poem can be used in such a capacity?

There are poems in the "public domain" here: https://www.public-domain-poetry.com/, but does that mean that one can use it in a publication as one could with creative commons licenses? Peer-reviewed publications aren't for profit by the authors, but I am guessing they would be considered as for profit for the publishers. How does one navigate such issues?

A related link here: Can I use images showing up in Google search for my presentation slides without violating any copyright? is helpful, but not exactly what I am looking for.

  • Under current US law, copyright lasts 95 years from publication or 70 years from death of the author. Exact numbers depend on country, but anything substantally older is in the public domain everywhere. Feb 13, 2021 at 22:01

1 Answer 1


The normal copyright laws apply. Old works don't have issues about reuse/republication, but should be cited to the author to avoid charges of plagiarism. Newer works need to observe that "complete" works can't normally be copied without permission. A poem, even if short, is a complete work.

Quotations are probably fine if cited to the original speaker, but these are seldom enough to be considered "complete works" even if new. But over quoting from a speech might bring you problems.

And note that it doesn't matter whether you gain revenue from a work that cites a poem or whatever. For copyright purposes, the issue is whether you are likely to reduce the value to the originator or not. So, short excerpts are normally fine, but at some point you cross a line making it unnecessary for someone interested to go to the original. IANAL, but something like that, anyway. It is a civil matter to be judged in a lawsuit if a copyright holder chooses to bring it.

Note that plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. You avoid plagiarism by citation and you don't need to use any form of copying to commit it. Plagiarism is about ideas. Copyright is more complicated and is governed by law. But copyright eventually expires letting you "copy" the words (or sounds or ...). But citation is still needed even if not always to a specific source.

And note that even public domain works should be cited to the originator.

And finally, plagiarism is a social construct, not a legal one. You can be accused of it and suffer the consequences even though you break no laws. The clear implication is that, in any doubtful/edge cases, you cite. Over citation causes no harm.

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